As a remote team, we rely on strong team trust and communication. We build and maintain our culture and skills in a lot of ways. One favorite Slider ritual is Communities of Practice, or COP for short.
The concept was introduced in the early nineties by social anthropologist Jean Lave and educational theorist Etiene Wenger. While studying apprenticeships as a learning model, they observed that people learned more effectively when they did it together. Wegner described Communities of Practice as “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly” (source). Communities of Practice are found in all industries, and extend beyond the professional world to school, online groups, and hobbies.
Here at Slide UX, COP focuses on (surprise, surprise!) UX design and research. Each Slider brings their own experiences, perspectives, and passions, and together, we find was to improve ourselves and the organization.
The Start of COP at Slide UX
Our Senior Producer, Hanna O'Brien, brought the concept of COP from her days as a technical project manager (PM). In a past role, her team sought a way to share knowledge across all project managers. COP allowed her team to share how they overcame past obstacles and solve current issues.
This practice came in handy when Hanna joined Slide UX. She needed to tweak a rapid prototype for a client. Although she had past experience with wireframes, she wanted to understand how Slide UX would go about it. Insights gained in COP helped her to complete the task, and even published a blog post on a trick she learned using Axure.
Hanna describes COP as an “opportunity for Sliders to come together and share their individual skills with the team. This not only improves the standard of work, but helps us document how we want to perform work as a team.” As the company grows, this dedicated time becomes even more important to make sure all Sliders are on the same page.
The Evolution of COP
As our firm has evolved, so has our Communities of Practice. Samantha Meazell, one of our UX Researchers, now facilitates COP. Sam has years of experience facilitating groups, and makes sure we're on track with the agenda and engaging in meaningful conversation.
The are productive in part due to the behind-the-scenes work that goes into each session. Sam explains, “Our Cofounder Erin and I developed a standard template for the meeting that mixes company announcements with ways to get to know each other a little better. Like a true democracy, we ask Sliders to submit topics for discussion and we, ahem, 'slide' them into each agenda. I continue to gain inspiration from blogs about how other companies 'do' remote team building and culture, so there are always enhancements to consider.” By balancing news and fun throughout the agenda, our COPs successfully strengthen Slider culture.
What It Is Today
Every Friday, Sliders dedicate one hour to catch-up, connect and talk shop. We start COPs with an icebreaker question which can range from “if Slide UX was a car, what kind of car would we be and why?” to “what has been your worst haircut?” This allows easy conversation to flow and prevents COP from feeling like “another meeting.” We then dive into Topics for Discussion which include recap of past project work, showing tips and new ways to use tools, sharing wins and lessons learned that week, progress on internal initiatives, and upcoming events.
Not surprisingly, the best part about COP is the ability to connect and socialize as a team. Associate UX Designer Darvinder Singh Kochar is a fan of COP because “I get to talk to my fellow teammates in a very casual fun way. This is even more important since we all work remotely.”
UX Researcher Megan Baker appreciates “the camaraderie and getting a chance to discuss all the things, especially getting to see work from projects that I may not have been on.” Without a physical office, engaging in conversation outside of professional work can be a challenge for remote teams. COP is a time when the entire team is together and able to interact with those they may not be working with directly.
Still, COP is more than social hour. By being together and learning from each other, our team grows as UXers and Sliders. Cat Battson, Senior Producer and UI Designer, says, “Whether it's tools like Sketch or Asana or dealing with client interactions — hearing how others do things, learning from their experience is very helpful.” Since each project is unique and has different challenges, hearing how everyone tackles tools or processes increases the team's shared knowledge and skills.
And though we may each be focused on different parts of the UX spectrum, sharing from other parts of the spectrum can be helpful. Sam shares, “Many of the tips and tools are design-specific which don't relate to me, but it's important to hear some behind-the-scenes talk. It helps me become a better Slider because I better understand how we all fit into our Slide puzzle and it extends a bit of staff bonding.”
And as one of our Co-founders Brant Young describes it, “We're lucky to have a team culture that fosters collaboration and a tell-us-what-you-really-think approach. Sliders are always direct with each other, we're passionate about what we do, and always there to offer help when someone needs it.”
Communities of Practice builds our team in more ways than one. By connecting with each other on a professional and personal level, our quality of work and team trust only strengthens. As a remote team, every face-to-face interaction (whether in-person or across screens) counts.
Want a sneak peek into one of our COPs? Watch the silly icebreaker at the start of one of our recent COP meetings (and then report back on which option you'd choose!)