Breaking Down the Barriers: Communities of Practice and Cross-Silo Communication

Skills sharing, collaboration and cross-silo communication, necessary for Agile projects, can be difficult in matrix organisations where common business practices may be shared across multiple business units. Organisations that strive for continuous improvement in these practices need a mechanism to identify, track and circulate the latest industry trends, techniques and tools. Additionally this mechanism should support the consistent management, and development, of common skills across the organisation.

This presentation will look at ways in which organisations can utilise informal ‘Communities of Practice’ (CoP) as a means of improving overall communication between business and technical functions. CoP's are informal, self-organising, & self-regulating groups of people who share a passion for something they do and regularly interact with each other as a means of continuous improvement. We will examine how organisations can;

  • Provide a forum for the cooperation of activities (outside of projects) between business functions;
  • Identify linkages & opportunities to collaborate on strategic business projects and coordinate the delivery of specific business practice projects;
  • Provide an informal point of contact for organisational staff on topics that affect the business practice;
  • Utilise Lean Coffee and other Agile practices for efficient and fun meetings.

Course Slides

breaking down the barriers.pptx

Course Notes

CoP ToR - example by Evan Leybourn.docx

Learning Outcomes

You will come away from this presentation with a deep understanding of the challenges of communicating across an organisation, along with practical techniques on how to break down the barriers between business functions. These include;

  • Defining the outcomes for a best-practice communication
  • What common business practices make great candidates of Communities of Practice
  • How to setup and run your Community
  • How to utilise agile concepts, such as lean coffee, self-organising teams, and self-managing teams outside of agile software projects

Finally you will come away from this presentation with an understanding the mathematical complexity involved in communication, and why it should be optimised across an organisation.


A brief (10 min) introduction will familiarise the workshop audience with the topic of communication and the issues faced in cross-silo communication through illuminating and engaging stories. The workshop will then break into three parts;

Each table will work run through a guided scenario where they will identify and setup a CoP (the subject of which is at the tables discretion). In this context, there are natural barriers in place as the majority of participants around a table will not know each other. Each table will self-organise, define the scope of the CoP and identify common issues for consideration.

Drawing from the first exercise and great industry examples, we will examine the complexities of communication and the techniques (such as lean coffee, self-management, value identification and agile facilitation) to break this down. Some of the practices we will be looking at include;

  • Good planning: some common sense to make sure that meetings run smoothly
  • Lean coffee: as a means of building a structured, agendaless meeting which promotes full participation
  • Self-management: to reduce both apathy by CoP members and cults of personality
  • Value identification: to allow CoP members to identify and articulate the value proposition
  • Facilitation based meetings (ie. the stapler of silence): to ensure everyone gets their turn to talk. CoP’s can also utilise a form of planning poker to ensure full participation.
  • I’ll also be looking at general language strategies as a means of reducing the risk of miscommunication.

Each table will then have the opportunity to utilise these techniques to engage with their fellow table mates.

The workshop will close with an examination of the best, and worst, examples of communication and an open Q/A session.