Colin D Ellis
Leadership | Culture | Success


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The Human Power of a Community

In his book Cultivating Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge, Etienne Wenger said, ‘Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis.’

I really like this definition of what it means to be part of something that is bigger than oneself. To share one’s experiences, knowledge, failures and feelings to ultimately – and collectively – become better at something with the help of other people who wish to do likewise.

When I moved to New Zealand in 2007 being part of a community was something that I actively sought out.

I didn’t know anyone at all, so my motivation was to meet people with a shared passion as I was eager to make an impression in my new job. I was hired because I had a track record of being good with people and teams, but I knew that I didn’t have all the answers. So, I looked for opportunities to mix with people with whom I could share my thinking and actions and who could challenge my biases and assumptions.

Whenever I came across an issue or problem that I felt I couldn’t resolve then I would seek out people within the ‘community’ who could help. They became friends (some of them virtual via Twitter) and we shared a passion to improve the way that things got done. There were healthy debates, good natured disagreements, a shared commitment to try different things.

With increased access to data via the internet I was able to research how different organisations built their own communities. At that time The World Bank was prolific in this space. They had established almost 100 communities (or thematics as they called them) who were dedicated to sharing knowledge on how to improve social and economic problems from around the world. 

Where I wasn’t able to acquire a skillset required to implement an idea, I would approach the organisation to fund my development. When money was tight (and in government it predominantly was!) then I would pay my own way. I didn’t want to stand in the way of my own progress.

This is something I continue today, even though I’m self-employed. Whether it’s through the programs that I run or the books that I write, I actively seek out and share the ideas that I gleaned from others and encourage others to do likewise. In fact, I’m heading overseas to a culture camp run by a fantastic organisation in the US, which I’m looking forward to sharing with you via video.

And when it comes to culture, there are many fixed mindset people out there who will tell you that culture change is hard and yet, these people have never gone searching for the information required to make it easier. Perhaps it’s because it’s easier not to, or else it could just be that there’s no central virtual space to go, where people share what they’ve tried?

LinkedIn and Facebook are, of course, home to many active communities, but there’s lots of noise that ultimately distracts from the original intent of the community. I wanted to try something different, so I’ve launched the Culture Fix Community. It’s a dedicated place to create a virtual network of people from around the world who want to create great places to work. 

There’s a paid for section that will ultimately be the home for online culture programs, webinars and other events for those that want to invest in their culture change skills and hear directly from me on a regular basis, but interacting with each other and sharing ideas will always be free.

It’s my hope that the community of practice will provide the following value to those that choose to be part of it:

  • A safe, cognitively diverse place to share thoughts, actions, failures and issues

  • Access to case studies, research and curated content on how to positively evolve workplace culture

  • Insights from culture makers around the world via the Culture Makers podcast (more information coming soon!)

  • Access to personal development programs so that individuals are better able to lead culture change activity

  • Curated content on the different elements of culture from thought leaders from around the world

  • Recommend books and resources to help further technical knowledge.

Of course any community is only as strong as the people in it. I hope you’ll join the almost 100 people who’ve signed up so far.

To become a Culture Maker head to – see you there!