What actually is … a Community of Practice (CoP)?

Christoph Dibbern
3 min readMay 30, 2022

If your company is in the midst of agile transformation, your structures will also change: if your teams and departments were previously organized functionally, ideally small, cross-functional teams are now formed. This means that your existing groups of closely networked specialists are torn apart, distributed to different teams and thus mostly separated spatially.

However, what is important and right for the individual team from the point of view of self-organization has a major disadvantage for the organization as a whole: the transfer of knowledge suffers — not only in the course of scaling, but experience has shown that this is already the case with two cross-functional teams. The technical specialists no longer benefit from each other’s experiences and it is becoming more difficult to get support quickly for concrete everyday problems. Knowledge islands are formed within the individual teams that have to be reconnected.

Agile ways of knowledge transfer

A proven approach is Communities of Practices, “CoP” for short. The term was first used in 1991 by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger in the context of community learning.

“Communities of practice are understood to be informal groups of people within an organization who come together because of their expertise and common interests and exchange knowledge, knowledge and experience over a longer period of time. In Communities of Practice (CoP) knowledge is generated, acquired and exchanged.” (Source: HR development trend book)

CoPs are independent of instructions and intrinsically motivated, i.e. the members participate voluntarily. CoPs develop organically (“design for evolution”) and do not pursue an activity-oriented goal — they are not task forces! Two questions are at the center of CoPs: “How can I solve an acute problem?” and “How can I do my work even better in the future?” If there are no acute problems, the members try to derive patterns and recommendations for action from their experiences and deal with innovations and development opportunities, give short presentations or invite external experts.

A minimum of structure ensures focus, for example through timeboxes and the documentation of the topics. A community leader (or community coordinator) organizes and moderates the meetings and ensures that community knowledge is documented. If the members of the CoP are spread over several locations, virtual meetings are also common.

Community of Practice for Scrum Masters

Agile organizations often have multiple communities of practice that represent individual roles or functional areas of expertise. A community of practice also makes sense for the company’s Scrum Masters. In practice, a one-week cycle has proven itself, supplemented by a regular retrospective.

At the beginning of the CoP, the ESVP method can be used, for example, to query the motivation of the participants for the meeting:

  • Explorer: The discoverer wants to gain new ideas and insights, collect information about upcoming projects and also look for new solutions himself.
    • Shopper: The buyer collects all useful information and proven solutions in order to apply them in his environment.
    • Vacationer: The vacationer is not interested in the results of the meeting, but is happy that the “time out” means that he does not have to pursue his actual work.
    • Prisoner: The prisoner feels compelled to participate. He would rather do something else.

ESDP helps participants to become clearer about their own role and position in the organization.

A short “weather report” can then document the mood of the current week:

After a joint collection of topics and topic prioritization, the TOP 4 topics are discussed in timeboxes of 10 minutes each, and ideally, a concrete “next step” is derived.

Every eight weeks, the CoP members reflect on their strategic orientation in a joint retrospective and check whether the meetings continue to generate added value for all participants and the company.

Community of Practice make an important contribution to shared learning in organizations.