Harnessing the Power of Communities of Practice: Embracing Proactive Communication for Growth and Collaboration
Amid demanding work schedules, it has become all too common for colleagues to respond with a unanimous ‘busy!’ when asked how they are, while navigating their day on autopilot. Balancing numerous tasks and responsibilities often leaves little room to pause, engage, and establish meaningful connections with our peers. By consciously prioritising communication and engagement with colleagues and incorporating dedicated sessions for connection and collaboration, we can create the time needed to foster these vital interactions. A powerful avenue for achieving this is through Communities of Practice (CoPs). In this article, Academic Coordinators CoP co-leads – Maria Remiendo (La Trobe Uni Sydney Campus), Nicky Zaikis (SAIBT), Niva Kaspi (ECC), supported by Karen McRae & Alyce Hogg (L&T Services) – delve into the significance of CoPs in cultivating connection and collaboration across University Partnerships Australasia (UPA), and how this contributes to personal and professional growth.
Cultivating successful communities and creating opportunities
Established in 2020, the Academic Coordinators (AC) CoP has emerged as a dedicated platform where approximately 80 UPA Academic Coordinators convene to exchange knowledge, develop strategies, pursue common goals, and engage in discussions surrounding the multifaceted responsibilities of the Academic Coordinator/Program Convenor role. Building and sustaining CoPs requires a structured approach encompassing (Wenger-Trayner, 2015):
- a clear purpose (what/why)
- the right members (who)
- and well-defined practices (how)
To effectively manage such a large and diverse cohort, a shared leadership model has been implemented, with three Academic Coordinators representing three UPA colleges, supported by L&T Services. This collaborative approach has proven to be an effective community management strategy that brings together varied expertise, experience, and perspectives.
“Being part of the AC CoP provides windows of opportunities to reflect and evaluate my own practice as a mentor, teacher, and colleague. It provides a safe space where everyone feels included, accepted, and empowered through shared insights and best practices. It is uplifting to witness how mutual respect, trust, belongingness, and team spirit can inspire each member to grow and be more empowered professionally.” – Maria Remiendo, Academic Coordinator | Foundation Studies & Diploma of Business Programs, La Trobe University Sydney Campus.
“Over the years, I have developed strong working relationships with CoP peers that have led to opportunities to collaborate on new projects – for example, our Generative AI Toolkit community has led to all kinds of amazing opportunities for collaboration. Embracing the opportunity to engage with our CoPs has also helped me cultivate a rich professional network of like-minded Navitas peers who I deeply respect and look up to.” – Alyce Hogg, Lead | Educational Developer, L&T Services, Melbourne.
Nurturing connection, collaboration, and collective wisdom
CoPs are powerful enablers of connection and a sense of belonging. Building connections with colleagues is a fundamental aspect of a productive and harmonious work environment. By dedicating time to engage in meaningful dialogue and practising active listening during CoP meetings, you not only demonstrate respect but also gain insights into different perspectives, needs and concerns. This cultivates stronger connections and fosters an environment where individuals feel valued and understood. In today’s digital age, leveraging technology becomes crucial for maintaining these connections. Collaborative tools and video conferencing bridge geographical distances and support remote work challenges. Regular active members of the AC CoP join monthly meetings through Zoom, while others engage asynchronously through online forums and discussion via a Teams group. This flexible approach allows staff to engage at their own pace and according to their priorities.
“I love being part of a CoP, facilitating knowledge sharing and listening to different insights and approaches. By leveraging technology, we get to meet colleagues from various colleges, states, and countries, that we would have never otherwise met, collectively advancing knowledge and skills, and potentially creating connections that may lead to lifelong friendships.” – Karen McRae, Manager | Academic Education, L&T Services, Sydney.
“Being able to connect and establish strong links with colleagues from across Navitas colleges enabled me to widen my horizon and further deepen my perspectives as an education professional. Witnessing the commitment and dedication of most members to connect and reach out regardless of the time difference and distance is quite compelling and inspiring.” – Maria Remiendo, Academic Coordinator | Foundation Studies & Diploma of Business Programs, La Trobe University Sydney Campus.
Overcoming challenges and driving innovation
In CoP meetings staff can share best practice, but also discuss challenges, and work on problem solving as a group. Asking for help or seeking support is not a sign of weakness but a testament to a collaborative and growth-oriented environment. This can have a significant positive impact on morale and helps create a supportive network that can contribute to individual and collective success while building camaraderie and strengthening relationships. Through cross-functional collaboration, CoP members can respond effectively to challenges, embrace change, drive innovation, and strive for continuous improvement through a rich and dynamic environment.
“Being part of AC CoP has been important for me because it supports networking between academic staff in similar roles, and fosters peer support, sharing insights and learnings within and across disciplines. I also feel that together we can solve problems, promote the spread of best practices and lessons learned, exchange ideas, and develop people’s professional skills.” – Nicky Zaikis, Academic Coordinator | Business, SAIBT, Adelaide.
“It’s been great to get to meet our peers from across UPA who are grappling with similar issues and challenges. Being able to learn from the different approaches applied by the other colleges has been invaluable, and the ability to share resources and information benefits everyone. Also, taking the time to step away from our everyday tasks and reflect together on our practices adds to the ongoing improvement we are all aiming for.” – Niva Kaspi, Program Coordinator | Commerce & Communication, ECC, Perth.
“Sometimes you might hit a roadblock or feel a bit stuck, but through discussions with other colleagues, new ideas might start to emerge. It’s the perfect environment for sharing best practice, continuous learning, creativity, new possibilities and unlocking the potential for co-creation of knowledge.” – Karen McRae, Manager | Academic Education, L&T Services, Sydney.
“CoPs provide an opportunity to engage with colleagues across colleges, disciplines, and even Navitas divisions. But CoPs are so much more than just spaces to share knowledge. They help us connect and foster a sense of belonging and collegiality. If I encounter a challenge, I know I can share it with my CoP peers and receive insights and strategies, all within a non-judgemental, supportive community space.” – Alyce Hogg, Lead | Educational Developer, L&T Services, Melbourne.
Whatever your priority for connecting might be, engaging in a CoP and investing time and effort into building connections with colleagues pays off. While workloads may be demanding, we can navigate busy schedules to make time for meaningful interactions and prioritise the value of a supporting culture and collaboration. Focusing on connection should not only be a priority, but should be considered essential for personal wellbeing, team cohesion, and overall productivity.
Join us for an upcoming webinar focusing on the establishment, maintenance, and effective leadership of a thriving Community of Practice on 19 July 2023. Click the registration link to secure your spot! If you are a Navitas staff member and would like more information on Navitas CoPs, or are a new UPA Academic Coordinator, contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.