Begin an internal “Community of Practice”

I work at a big company with IT people all around the world. Many of them do the same kind of work I do. What can I do to meet these people and build my internal professional network?

There are two things I loved about this reader’s question. First, is that the reader understands the value of connecting with other likeminded professionals within your company. Second, is that the person has the motivation to try to find a way to make these professional connections. Good for you! Your perception and desire for action can be of great value to you professionally.

If you work for a large IT organization, chances are there are people around the country or around the world who are using the same technologies and/or are doing the same type of work you are. One way to raise your head above the crowd within your organization and simultaneously position yourself as an internal thought leader and potential candidate for promotion is to form an internal “Community of Practice”. Using external professional association terms, this is the equivalent of a professional Special Interest Group (SIG).

The goals of this internal community could be any or all of the following, based on your particular area of technical expertise:

• Create and or share internal best practices • Reuse of internally developed software • Crowd sourcing to solve difficult issues and/or design specialized algorithms • Resource sharing of hardware and software licenses • Informal mentoring of newer, less experienced, professionals • Informal job posting helping to facilitate promotions and lateral moves

There are also many additional benefits to you personally as the leader/facilitator of the group:

• Provides you a great opportunity to meet others in your role across the company, because they will be calling you with questions on how to join and participate • Puts you at the center of internal activity related to your area of expertise. • Provides you a good reason to call anyone in the company related to your profession. This is a great way for you to build your professional network without looking totally self-serving. • It gives you the opportunity to truly do something great for your company.

The creation and facilitation of an Internal Community of Practice is much easier now than it would have been ten or fifteen years ago because of the advent of internal social media tools, such as Yammer, SharePoint, and internal wikis, blogs and discussion boards. If one or more of these tools are currently used internally, you can piggyback on their functionality and almost instantaneously have a platform to begin building your community.

The goal and danger for you is that you would want to be the leader/facilitator of the group, not the authoritative voice of right and wrong. Your job is to get the community talking to others in a way that’s best for the company and hopefully for them personally. If you try to impose your points of view or personal agenda on the community it can easily sour and dramatically hurt your reputation within the company. Your internal visibility and value to the company will rise as the value of the community gains strength, activity, and momentum. Certainly be an active participant in the group, but don’t be its dictator.

What’s interesting about starting and helping run these types of communities, whether inside or outside your company, even if you do it with no thought of personal gain, is that it’s truly incredible how much it can benefit you personally:

• You will meet and get to know people you otherwise, most likely, would have never met. • You will become a more knowledgeable professional, almost by osmosis, just by reading people’s posts, answering people’s questions, and being central to the concerns, issues, and triumphs of those doing work similar to your own. • You will learn how to be a leader, even if you don’t aspire to attain a leadership role. • Lastly, you will have the satisfaction of doing something good for the world, by helping the careers of those you work with, your IT organization, and your company as a whole.

If you have any questions about your career in IT, please email me at eric@ManagerMechanics.com or find me on Twitter at @EricPBloom.

Until next time, work hard, work smart, and continue to grow.

Read more of Eric Bloom's Your IT Career blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Eric on Twitter at @EricPBloom. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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