Build Your Learning Organization Culture
Learning and Development (L&D) has a very wide range of tools to manage performance by providing training and promoting learning. However, there is always a possibility of falling into the trap of exclusively using formal training, such as courses. To avoid this trap, an L&D professional can expand their repertoire by incorporating communities of practice into their L&D strategy. This can prove to be highly beneficial.
What Is A Community Of Practice?
A community of practice (CoP), the concept of which was first introduced by Etienne Wenger, is becoming increasingly popular in Learning and Development. Simply put, a community of practice is a group of people who have a shared professional interest and meet regularly to discuss it, share their experience, and, most importantly, learn from one another.
An organization may be willing to establish and encourage CoPs among its employees for several reasons. Firstly, they are a great tool for knowledge management, as they can tackle the retaining and sharing of tacit or implicit knowledge that is not easily documented and spread otherwise. More than that, the culture of CoPs can result in new and better practices being implemented faster, business processes being improved, and problems being solved more efficiently. CoPs also help build stronger links within the organization and develop a deeper sense of community. The existence of CoPs generally enhances learning culture, which is an essential part of a learning organization—a critical quality for a company in the modern market. This can all have a very positive impact on the success of an organization.
However, even though CoPs can sound very promising for an organization, starting one often turns out to be quite a challenge. It is not always easy to bring people together and make sure that a CoP sticks around and brings about real change. If you are looking for a way to do this, you may want to consider starting a book club for discussing professional or business literature as a solid starting point in creating a culture of CoPs in your organization. This can prove especially useful for leadership development for new middle and lower management employees, or your HiPo (high-potential) programs trainees, because these people are often the ones who would benefit the most from sharing experiences and discussing the common issues they might face, or have already faced, in their work.
Tips For Starting A Book Discussion Club
Here are a few tips that can help you start a book discussion club in your organization:
1. Get Buy-In From Your Stakeholders
Establishing a CoP requires little to no investment, but you will definitely need support from management, as you will need to promote your initiative and make sure you can schedule club meetings during working hours. To pitch your initiative to your stakeholders, you can use the ideas that were discussed in this article so far. Make a business case that CoPs can greatly contribute to the idea of a learning organization; they may potentially help improve performance and even help improve employee retention.
2. Clearly Set Goals And Manage Expectations From The Very Beginning
Prepare a list of books that participants are going to read first—three books will suffice at this point. Later on, when you have an established club with regular participants, you can let them choose the books themselves. Choose something that can appeal to a wide audience: a book on leadership and management, such as Ichak Adizes’s The Ideal Executive for example, or a business novel such as Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. A good idea here would also be to talk to your stakeholders. They might have some book suggestions, and this can also help you gain more engagement from them.
3. Start Small
Choose a group of people who are highly motivated and are willing to share and listen. You can do that by promoting the club on your internal company portal, or by personally inviting people who you think might be interested. Talk to HR and see if they can suggest candidates for the club. A small group of up to eight people will be more than enough to start a CoP.
4. Plan Your Schedule
Think about the frequency and length of club meetings and plan accordingly. The club can meet once a month and discuss a few chapters, or you can arrange meetings once every two months to discuss the whole book in one sitting—it will depend on your context. Do not make meetings too long, 60–90 minutes is a good duration to start with, and you can make it longer later if you see that participants need more time. Observe the group dynamics and take into account the book itself.
5. Facilitation Is Key
It is crucial that the first few sessions are facilitated well and leave participants with the feeling that the club is useful as well as fun. Start off by preparing a list of questions for discussion. Make them open-ended and tie the content of the book to your participants’ work context through the questions. Compare these two: “What does this concept mean?” and “Is this the first time you encounter this concept? Have you or anyone you know used this concept in their work? How did it pan out?” The first question feels like you are in a lesson, while the second set is likely to prompt a discussion and lead to sharing, which is ultimately your goal. Try different ways of facilitating and see what works for your group. You can use quizzes, role-plays, and round tables. Experiment and observe to find the best activities for the club. Consider inviting participants to facilitate club meetings themselves at a later stage.
CoPs are an excellent and comparatively easy instrument that you can use to diversify your Learning and Development strategy and achieve better results for your organization, and book clubs are a great way to introduce this initiative.