Human beings can achieve amazing things when we work together.
Communities offer us these opportunities. They’re built upon relationships — whether familial, social, or professional — and provide people with a sense of belonging and support, forming connections that can last a lifetime.
Communities of Practice (CoP) are one type of community built on professional relationships.
In this guide, we'll walk you through the basics of a CoP, including what it is, how to find and evaluate CoPs, and the steps to take to become an active member so that you gain a solid understanding of how to make the most of your membership. Let's get started!
A Community of Practice (CoP) is a group of people that share a profession coming together to learn, share knowledge, and network. CoPs can be formed around various topics and bring together like-minded individuals with the purpose of exchanging valuable insights and resources that can benefit each other in the long run.
CoPs serve as a catalyst for personal and professional growth, as they provide members with greater access to networks, knowledge, ideas, and opportunities. CoPs can take different forms, including in-person and virtual meetings, as well as online discussion forums. By providing a supportive environment for knowledge-sharing and collaboration, CoPs enable individuals to develop their skills and knowledge, and to keep up-to-date with the latest trends and best practices in their field.
CoPs can be found in a wide range of fields, including business, healthcare, education, technology, and the arts. They can be informal, with members gathering online or in-person to share information and insights, or they can be formal, with structured activities and goals.
Regardless of the format, CoPs provide a supportive environment where people can engage in critical thinking, ask questions, receive feedback, and build on each other's experiences.
According to a research paper, Communities of Practice and Organizational Performance, being part of a CoP can have numerous benefits for both, its members and the organizations they work in.
CoPs provide a platform for members to share their knowledge and experience with each other, which can help individuals learn new skills and gain insights into their field.
Participating in a CoP can help individuals stay up-to-date with the latest developments in their field and provide opportunities for professional growth and advancement. Additionally, the study found that CoPs facilitate the transfer of knowledge and expertise, leading to improvements in organizational performance.
CoPs can be a great way to meet and connect with other professionals who share your interests and goals. Furthermore, the research showed that employees who participate in CoPs reported higher levels of job satisfaction and a greater sense of belonging within their organization.
CoPs provide a space for members to collaborate on projects and initiatives, which can lead to new ideas and innovations. The study found that participation in CoPs leads to increased innovation, knowledge sharing, and problem-solving ability among members.
When it comes to joining — or even finding — a CoP for the first time, it can be hard to know where to start.
Here are some tips to help you find Communities of Practice:
Attending industry conferences and networking events is a great way to connect with other professionals in your area of interest and learn about CoPs they might be members in.
👉 Actionable Tip: Connect with people you meet at these events on platforms like LinkedIn or Twitter within the next few days when it’s still fresh in their minds. In your LinkedIn request, mention that you met them recently at the event so they have some context — like you, they probably met a lot of people!
You can also use LinkedIn and Twitter to reach out to potential contacts in your industry and build a network of people who can provide you with key resources, knowledge, and potential contacts. If you have mutual connections already, you could also ask your mutual contact to connect you to them.
There are many thriving CoPs on Facebook and LinkedIn. This can be a great place to get started by searching for relevant forums, discussion boards, and social media groups based on your interests, expertise, or career path.
If you’re on Twitter, just ask! Tweet that you’re looking for a CoP to join and need some recommendations. Followers in the industry might just be able to help you out.
Don’t forget about the power of word-of-mouth! Ask friends and colleagues who may have experience in the industry or may know of a specific Community of Practice that you could join. You can also reach out to former colleagues on LinkedIn or another platform you might be connected to them on.
A quick Google search may help you find a list of CoPs in your industry. You can also find crowd-sourced lists — like Commsor’s CoP directory — that give you a comprehensive look at different CoPs, whether they’re free or paid, and how many members they have, among other things.
Getting to know other members is essential in creating a strong sense of community and building meaningful relationships. Take the time to introduce yourself and get to know their names.
Many communities greet new members with a welcome message and some suggestions for things to share in an introductory message. If you’re unsure, spend some time reading introduction messages from other members to get an idea of what people have shared about themselves.
Some common things you can include are where you work, how long you’ve been in the industry, what you’re looking to learn or gain by being a member, and what you can offer. You can also share which city or country you live in, if you’re comfortable.
Now that you’ve said hello, you'll want to check out the channels and groups within the community. This will help you get a sense of the community's structure, the types of conversations and activities taking place, and where you might want to focus your attention.
Here are some steps you can take to explore the channels and groups in your new community:
Remember, exploring the channels and groups within a CoP is just one step in getting started. Be patient and take the time to get to know the community and its members. Over time, you'll likely find that certain channels or groups become your go-to places for conversation, learning, and collaboration.
Finding ways to get involved in your community is a great way to make it thrive. Here are some tips for getting involved in your new community:
Building relationships and getting involved in a CoP takes time and effort. Don't be discouraged if it takes a little while to find your footing or feel like you're making a meaningful contribution. Keep showing up, participating, and engaging with the community, and you'll likely find that you start to feel more connected and invested over time.
Creating a thriving community is a collaborative effort that requires the help of everyone, and giving back to the community is a great way to show your support. By getting to know other members, getting involved, and giving back to the community, you can help to make your community a healthier and more vibrant place.
This idea of giving back is not always monetary; some of the most valuable things that any person can give are their time and energy, whether that’s one day or an hour out of the week. Here are some ways to consider giving back:
Giving back to a CoP is about more than just helping others. By contributing your time, energy, and expertise, you can also strengthen your own connections within the community and deepen your own understanding of the topics and issues that matter to you.
Communities of Practice offer a valuable platform for people to connect with others who share their interests and goals and learn, collaborate, and innovate. If you’re ready to reap all the benefits, look for a CoP in your industry (scroll back up for our tips on how to find one if you’re stuck) and hit that ‘join button’. You’ll be gaining access to expertise and knowledge, expanding your professional network, and contributing to the advancement of your field.