Communities of Practice – Tribes Friends

Majority of us love to do things for community.
If we take a look at the Wikipedia’s definitions of “community”:

  1. Community usually refers to a social unit larger than a small village that shares common values. The term can also refer to the national community or international community.
  2. In biology, a community is a group of interacting living organisms sharing a populated environment.

If we merge these two definitions, ‘businessize’ it a bit and extract the ‘best’ of both, it could sound something like:

A group of people sharing the same values and cause in order to efficiently work, learn and develop together

We can call it a tribe (in a certain dimension). Please take a look at my previous post on tribes).

Why this is important?

Nowadays, we have structured (formal) organizations with clearly defined processes and rules. Majority of people feel safe to follow them for at least 2 reasons:

  1. They consider that processes help to work efficiently and produce wanted outcome
  2. They can always claim and blame on the process if something goes wrong

While the first statement is is not that bad, the second one produces  a big crowd of Mr. Status Quo fans and a hard compliance to the process. Communities (of Practice) are virtual teams having no formal structure in the organization and are not mandated by management. They gather around common interests, purpose or idea, and create new pathways of communication and realization of ideas. I witnessed to some of such communities: Scrum Masters, developers, testers, continuous integration, system administrators, data base programmers, creative environment, software craftsmanship…
They make organization learning, adapting and stimulating to become more agile.

Some other communities were ‘established’ by management and soon some of them quietly vanished, or still exist just formally. The common cause/characteristics of those ghost groups were:

  • Defined and imposed by management
  • Drivers responsible for communities were managers or set by managers,
  • There was no working agreement
  • There was no clear purpose and goal to reach…

However, even a small achievement that sporadically happened in these groups is overstated as ‘best practice’ and a great ‘cross-organizational collaboration’. This is a natural recognition of own (management) work creating a fallacy of success, and keeping the command and control behavior. It is far from achieving the habit of continuous/sustainable improvement.



If we mathematically put a minus sign in front of the characteristics above, we twist the initiatives making them opposite and thus increase the opportunity to achieve valuable networking groups.

Leaders cannot just organize communities like departments or feature teams, or projects, or ‘special forces’… They cannot install a passion and enthusiasm by setting a formal structure. What they can do is to promote them and provide support, logistics, infrastructure, finances… and enjoy the movement and progress.

Tribes – The Way to Compete

circle_of_feetSocializing is an important aspect of being human. It goes a long way back throughout the human evolution, having people organized in tribes for the common purpose to survive. Nowadays, collaboration has similar dimensions. Knowledge sharing is fast, including a whole range of tools and means, from web collaboration frameworks, like wiki; social networking to live video sessions. Actually, there is no excuse for not doing it.

Nowadays, my impression is that people have a tendency to group smaller tribes. Agile teams are good example. More and more they become cross-functional, gradually extending their ability to work end-to-end. They meet daily to collaborate, brainstorm, do pair-programming, share the ideas and artifacts, i.e. they learn together, and they are getting more and more efficient in all this. However, as we get pressured with different deadlines with a constant change of business dynamic, it seems that communication, collaboration and engagement with others (other teams) have been set as a lower priority. Sharing and learning is focused (and limited) within a team borders.

Since we learn as individuals and acquire knowledge, and we just said that we more and more learn within teams, we need to learn as a whole organization/company as well. We have different programs or domains that span over a number of teams. Sometimes they work together on a feature and the work is scaled. Efficient delivery of such features is dependent on scaling, i.e. learning, collaboration and sharing information and knowledge. One of the examples I witnessed was about the setup of Scrum of Scrums. If each of the teams nominates its representative (trying to avoid Scrum Masters and Product Owners) in one-level-up Scrum, it needs to make sure that the person ‘feels’  the same level of confidence and safety to share, learn and contribute as in her/his own team. Daniel Mezick, in his book “The culture game”, calls it tribal learning. In the Lean world, this is called Yokoten – the process (obligation) to horizontally share when something new is learned. Dave Logan, John King and Halee Fischer-Wright in their book Tribal Leadership – Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organizationdescribe the thinking model and possibilities to build tribes. They commonly describe tribes as a relatively moderate number of members – up to 150 where they can unite for a common purpose. Competitiveness of your organizations depend on possibility to scale, build contemporary tribes. Of course, culture is the part of it, so you may want to check the previous post about it.