Future skills for an ‘age of automation’


The importance of a learning culture to create powerful communities of practice

Clare Richmond, Founder and Director at SpeakTo reveals steps that can help you achieve successful cultures of learning and innovation.


Communities of Practice – groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact.


Walk into any pub or restaurant and you will find discussions taking place between groups of people who are enthusiastically exchanging ideas and debating issues. Even if they occur regularly, these lively discussions are not formal Communities of Practice (CoPs) as they lack a formal structure and defined purpose. However, these casual scenarios can give us important insights into how successful CoPs are created.


Agile and Open

In conventional work situations, success is often measured on visibility, with value determined and reflected by positional status. Leaders are frequently expected to have all the answers, whilst being able to accurately predict the future. Being uncertain is to be feared as our nirvana is to be seen to ‘be right’. This environment rarely cultivates true innovation and learning and is the antithesis of what a successful CoP requires, which is for people to speak honestly, free to challenge and debate openly. Traditional hierarchical structures can be counter-productive as real learning and collaboration come from creating a space where a diversity of voices can work together to catalyse.


Operating in a more open environment can feel uncomfortable at first but with clear guidelines and purpose, this agile forum is transformative. Fundamental in achieving this culture is creating a ‘holding space around uncertainty’. Niels Bohr, a founding contributor to Quantum theory, recognised that progress is only made when an acknowledgement is given to the fact that we don’t know. In a time of complexity, this is an important approach, questions are a good starting point for all learning and an excellent way to become inclusive.


Grassroots leadership inspires a culture of learning

The challenge is that this environment can’t be prescribed. You can’t make people relax and be open just by telling them to be, but you can create the right conditions and behaviours with the right approach.  In our work, using grassroots leadership as an inspiration, we see how much more can be achieved by encouraging these circumstances both within communities and businesses.


From our experience of working with innovative trailblazers, we know that successful grassroots leaders are masters at generating a culture that brings out the best in people. By necessity, they habitually work with diverse groups of people, often with very little leverage other than achieving a sense of connection and ownership. These grassroots leaders mobilise people from all walks of life, achieving extraordinary outcomes from small beginnings and sustained over the years.


Three steps that can help you achieve successful cultures of learning and innovation:


1. Release the potential within – leaders are only effective with great followers

CoPs require collaborative DNA and leaders need to be intuitive and agile. Creating strong followers is not about promises but constructing inspiring horizons, curated around a clear framework of learning.


2.  Need a clear direction but be open to the route.

Being clear about direction or goal whilst embracing uncertainty and learning to be truly agile and responsive.


3. Start small but start somewhere.

Key to a grassroots attitude; work with what you’ve got, start small to shape the solution within and to reflect the unique requirements of the organisation and people involved. Maintaining momentum, and building insight and greater understanding.


Clare RichmondClare Richmond is the Founder and Director of SpeakTo, a consultancy that specialises in inspiring grassroots attitudes within organisations and communities.





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