April 2021
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TD Magazine

Embrace Community for Peer Learning

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Use the power of many to solve business challenges.

Communities of practice are one way for individuals to learn from each other. But as Maggie Romanovich explains in "Expand Employee Learning With Communities of Practice," they are different from mentoring and other types of peer learning. CoPs are based on three elements: domain (the group's focus), practitioners (the individuals who form the group and who are practicing in the domain), and community (the group's interaction and trust).


These communities can come together on their own spontaneously or through formalized effort. Talent development professionals can also take the lead to establish CoPs to showcase and use high performers' and employees' expertise to help others or to bring practitioners together to solve a common challenge in a practice area.

Regardless of how the groups form, they may need encouragement and support. The groups must foster discussion to be successful. Romanovich advises talent development professionals to help cultivate participation by following the advice of Etienne Wenger, Richard McDermott, and William Snyder:

  • Ensuring that there's a structure in place for the CoPs to adapt over time
  • Encouraging diversity of thought by including a variety of perspectives
  • Allowing individuals to engage at different commitment levels
  • Opening some conversations publicly but allowing for private interactions
  • Centering activities on value brought to members and the company
  • Establishing expected routines while allowing for some spontaneity
  • Setting up a predictable and familiar cadence

Romanovich also points out that although CoPs often occur naturally when colleagues work in the same space, CoPs aren't limited to in-person meetings.

These tips were adapted from the April 2021 issue of TD at Work. Learn more at td.org/TDatWork.

About the Author

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is a professional membership organization supporting those who develop the knowledge and skills of employees in organizations around the world. The ATD Staff, along with a worldwide network of volunteers work to empower professionals to develop talent in the workplace.

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