Why workplace communities matter

A work community can be internal or more wide-reaching, but all these groups seem to have a few things in common

23 August 2022

If members get value from the community and it’s meeting their needs for support and learning, we’re on the right track © Pexels

We are all part of a community, even if we don’t realise it. Think about your neighbourhood, or maybe you’re a fan of a sport team. Perhaps you’re in a club of some kind, or you drop in regularly to an internet forum. These are all communities.  

But what exactly is a community? Emily Webber, a leader in digital and Agile communities, describes it simply as “[a group] of people with a meaningful social connection”. That certainly rings true for the groups mentioned above. Emily goes on to talk about the sense of belonging that a community can provide, about how its members are committed to each other. This probably feels all rather familiar – think again about your neighbourhood or club and being able to rely upon the people making up those communities for help.  

So why don’t we think more about the workplace when we think about communities? 

Workplace communities 

One kind of workplace community is a ‘community of practice’, where the connection that brings people together relates to their profession. These communities tend to be informal, outside the management structure, but can provide members with fantastic opportunities for shared learning and support – just like other kinds of communities.  

At CDPS, we’ve recently run workshops on what delivery managers and product managers would want from a community. Unsurprisingly, people wanted the community to act as a support network and a place for learning.  

In comparison with the other communities that CDPS has established, we’re starting small and internal with the delivery community. We have a weekly Lean Coffee where we discuss the good things and the challenges we’ve encountered in the past week. We also have a monthly “safe space” session where we go deeper into an issue, try a new workshop or facilitation technique or have an external speaker.  

screengrab from a Mural board – sticky notes from members have a common theme, a safe space where people can discuss challenges within their role and share lessons learned
Workshops showed what delivery and product managers wanted from a community, as recorded on a Mural board
screengrab from a Mural board – sticky note says 'celebrate success and failure, allow people to make mistakes', 'ask all to share their successes each week'
Communities of practice are ‘safe spaces’, where people are allowed to make mistakes

Little things make big things better 

We have lively online chat, too, where we help each other out with little things that make the big things work better. Having this constant private discussion has made a great difference.  

On the product side, we’ve suggested a similar approach – though this community, from the outset, is intended to be open to all product managers in the Welsh public sector. We don’t have many product managers at CDPS, and we suspect that’s true in other Welsh public sector organisations. So we’re inviting colleagues at UK government departments like the Office for National Statistics and Companies House to also get involved.  

The measure of success here is that the communities are sustaining, people get value, and CDPS doesn’t need to ‘own’ them. Agile preaches self-organisation – if members feel as if they have a say in the community and that it’s meeting their needs for support and learning, then we’re on the right track. 

To find out more about our communities, get in touch with Darren McCormac, delivery community lead at CDPS. 

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