In an earlier article, I covered the phases of building a Community of Experts within an organization and what teams setting out to create a CoE could expect at each stage. Another important topic to cover is that creating one, or many, Community of Experts will come with challenges. It’s important to find the best solutions and right answers for these situations. That’s what I’ve set out to do in this second article.
The most critical challenges I’ve discovered are: how a new Community of Experts integrates into an organization, how to engage employees, how to keep everyone focused and aligned throughout the CoE’s existence. You are certain to run across other challenges, but these are the most important.
Integration of a Community of Experts
So how is this new entity, the CoE, integrated in the organization? One key initial step is to very clearly outline the authority of the Community of Experts. The CoE’s chief responsibility is to improve the services and outcomes that the firm provides. It is uniquely set up to deliver on that promise because the community is a group of specialists in the same discipline.
Organizations often have many departments and it’s important to identify which department or practice the CoE lives in. That is because, at some point, the community will need to sync with that department to ensure the work they are providing is valuable for the wider company vision. That does not isolate the CoE from other departments, but makes sure it works in lockstep with the most closely-related existing team.
It’s important that the work that is being carried out in CoE is validated constantly. We want to avoid a group of talented people working on something that is not relevant for the business strategy. It’s important that the CoE validates its work with senior stakeholders: often department directors or other managers which have delivery responsibilities. That validation is done by having meetings early and often with other departments to validate the backlog of work and demo progress.
Part of a CoE’s charter should define what other departments it interacts with. Like recruiting for example, where members can provide valuable input on the interview process. Similarly, there’s expected involvement in the sales process. The sales department will always own the sales process, but when they need experts for a specific project or need during the solutioning phase – the CoE provides an easy framework to find those individuals.
Furthermore, a CoE helps with auditing existing projects, identifying things that can be improved and things that don’t work as expected. A CoE is especially helpful when there is a need for an audit; the experts in the group assess the processes, tools and frameworks used on projects by regularly assessing past performance and using the takeaways to structure future engagements. With that plan, a CoE can dramatically improve the delivery process.
Engaging the Team with Community of Experts
“Tell me, and I forget. Teach me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I learn.” – Benjamin Franklin
How can I engage more people in a CoE? This is one of the most common questions. The answer is simple: the CoE will be driven by passion. Those passionate about working with a tool or framework or technology will want to be in the Community of Experts.The very basis for a CoE, and a common thread in its members, is passion for continuous learning and improving their skills. Involving more people in the CoE’s activities will drive dedication and initiative. Membership is open to all, but leaders and involved members will be self-selected based on those most driven to improving themselves continuously.
Storytelling also plays an important role. You must promote this new CoE within the organization as the cool and new thing it is! Internal marketing of the initiative is really important for building awareness of the initiative and driving involvement.
Let’s talk a little about time. The old saying goes, time is money. And, the most important (and expensive) investment an organization makes in a CoE is time. Usually members are engaged in client projects and will have limited time to devote. This is why it is very important to use people’s time in a wise manner. Talk with people and have them identify the top priorities for a CoE. Let them drive the boat. Involve them, engage them. They will find time for this. You know why? Because they love what they do. Remember the earlier point that passion is the fuel for the community.
Remember, it’s a work in progress, and along the way you may find some things can be changed or adjusted. That’s fine! Talk with people, listen to them, work with them when it is the right time, and keep the boat sailing.
Focus and Stay Aligned
One of the most important challenges will be keeping all of the CoE’s members focused and aligned with company objectives. The work must be aligned with company goals. You may have situations where members of the CoE want to work on tasks that don’t provide value to the company. Leaders must understand the business goals and be direct about resetting these tasks if they aren’t a good use of time. It’s not easy to break that news to team members, especially when they have invested a lot of time. This provides an opportunity to reiterate the goals of the CoE and how they fit within the company vision. All work should ladder back up to those goals. So always stay focused. Stay aligned.
Ultimately, as you are building a Community of Experts, don’t expect to have everything to work perfectly from day 1. It will take time for the group to take the right shape and run smoothly. But, I guarantee it will reach that level, because of the member’s passion. Conquering the challenges outlined above will unlock the passion in members, allow them to take ownership over the initiative, and set the CoE up for success!