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While communities need strong facilitators, leadership should be distributed across the community -- a coalition of the willing. Shared leadership invites feedback and engagement. Model the activity and behavior you wish to see ...then pass the torch!


Develop an initial core group.

  • To get a community of practice started, you really have to have an individual or core group of individuals who are coming together with a shared purpose/need. You have to model and lead a lot initially, and it takes a lot of energy before you hit that critical mass and the thing takes on a life of its own(Alex Pickett).

  • One of the communities of practice I’ve been participating in for the last 14 years only started being productive after some members volunteered to moderate. Someone needs to take the lead or it tends to dwindle (Cristiana Assumpcao).

  • An example may be an advisory committee, a group of invested participants that are dedicated to the success of the CoP as well as bringing value to the participants. This committee or group can be the driver of continued innovation and value to keep members coming back and could be representation of those part of the CoP for shared vested interest (Angela Dick).

  • Starting it up and building an initial “critical mass” that can form a community identity that can be promoted and sustained (Marilyn Dispensa).

Model leadership.

  • Modeling requires an authentic heart and a genuine passion. Create a sense of trust and shared sense of belonging. You have to be generous with your time and what you know and have (Alex Pickett).

Value individuals over affiliations. 

  • People are more than their title, role, or expertise (Samantha Becker).

  • Titles often are the least important part of what someone can offer a highly-functioning community of practice (Paul Signorelli).

  • It is always important to not discount experience in your community of practice members since many have a lengthy list of attributes they can bring to the community (Angela Dick).

Encourage Turnover in Leadership Positions.

  • Look for opportunities to encourage leaders to move into new positions or into informal roles where their contributions, not their titles, are acknowledged and celebrated. Having someone hold a “top” title within a community for more than a few years obviously contributes to stability, but can also become stultifying if the community and the leader are seen as one and the same. To be blunt: founderitis -- the awful syndrome of seeing the leader as the community and being afraid that the community will collapse if the person holding the top title leaves is an indication that the community is far weaker than it should be (Paul Signorelli).

Distribute leadership and respect volunteers.

  • Leadership needs to be shared and distributed across the community. Be very clear with volunteer leaders about your expectations for their role. Be respectful of people’s time. Volunteer exhaustion is real. Provide things that are easy for volunteers to share to show their involvement, materials to support and recognize them. Acknowledge that they are doing this in their valuable spare time (Samantha Becker).

  • Managing expectations with volunteers can be rewarding and difficult, especially if you have a leadership group such as an Advisory Committee (Angie Dick).

Cultivate passion.

  • Everybody has to have their own personal fuel to bring to the community. If you don’t feel the excitement for the community, it won’t go very far. There’s intrinsic motivation you have to tap into, balanced with an attitude of “it’s not about me, it’s about the community.” How do I make sure that the spotlight is on the community? On the people who will help build the community? That itself generates some energy. It’s the old “step-off-the-curb” theory - if something happens to the formal leadership, will the community continue to grow? Put things in place that facilitate this (Lisa Stephens).

Build trust among leaders.

  • Foster co-leadership who know and trust each other who can share guiding/facilitation work (Elan Paulson).

Utilize a community manager. 

  • People underestimate the role of the community manager. It is important to maintain consistency. The community has to be dynamic (Nancy Rubin).

  • The manager is important to maintain focus and rhythm to lead to productive conversations and actions (Cristiana Assumpcao).

  • A community manager is critical in pushing momentum forward in the background for the community leadership. Great community leaders are typically busy so having someone to play this role will maximize what your volunteer leadership will have to offer (Angela Dick).

  • Most successful communities of practice have no “leader”, however a facilitator may be helpful to nudge participation (Marilyn Dispensa).

Unite complementary strengths. 

  • It helps to understand your personal strengths. I’ve come to accept that I’m more effective when partnering with people who are detail oriented to help execute! If FLEXspace didn’t have a diverse group of advisors, it wouldn’t enjoy the current success (Lisa Stephens).

  • We need to see other’s strengths as a benefit, not a threat, to assemble the diverse group that is needed to be effective & successful. We can never build a strong team or a strong community if we need to be the strongest one there (Jenna Olsen).


Related Case Studies + Examples:

Many of the case studies reflect multiple, intersecting best practice categories. See the Examples/Case Studies section for additional examples.


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