There are many different ways, methods and techniques to improve knowledge sharing at the workplace, increase productivity and form strong and healthy relationships between co-workers.
At codecentric, we found one to be particularly efficient – engaging in communities of practice at the workplace. Community of practice is a group of people who share a craft, a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better through social interaction. The term community of practice was first used in a book ‘Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation’ by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger and it was further expanded in a book ‘Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity’ by Wenger. Although they were first described and studied in 1990s, communities of practice existed centuries before among craftsmen and apprentices of almost all professions.
Etienne Wenger describes three elements that differentiate a community of practice from other groups and communities – shared domain of interest, learning from other members of the community and practicing the craft.
We asked one of our software developers, Milan Stevanovic, to define community of practice in his own words and describe how it is used at codecentric. In his interpretation, it is a working group inside of a company where everyone who share similar area of work help each other progress. Group usually gathers once a month in an office to discuss different topics – who is good at something, who is not and how to help everyone reach the same level of expertise. For example, a couple of senior developers and a junior who just arrived at the company discuss what junior should learn in the next period of time, who is going to mentor him/her, who did something similar and might help. They define goals and put together an individual project of learning and practicing for everyone. Milan states that the most important goal they are trying to achieve is consistency using certain technology within the company. What does that mean? Using same coding style and same programming languages whenever that is possible, will make it easier to form cross functional teams in the future.
Codecentric has flat organizational structure which means there is no formal authority to say what to learn and practice – members of a certain group openly discuss ideas and technologies to come up with the best possible solution for every challenge that may arise. Most of the meetings happen during ‘20% time’ that every employee at codecentric has for individual education during work hours.
Through community of practice, members learn a lot from each other, they develop personally and professionally and form stronger bonds within the team. It evolves with time and becomes more efficient. Numerous studies shown it saves time and resources and also increases profit.
To conclude and emphasize the benefits of this method, we asked for one good example where community of practice benefited their team. ‘We discussed a new coding pattern recently, which our colleague Igor later used to create a demo for the client. Client was impressed and hired him for the project’.