team

Using guilds to build a culture of learning and innovation

Today I’m going to introduce you to how I’ll be using guilds to build a culture of learning and innovation.

I’ve just started the journey of incubating a few guilds at my current company. So I thought I’d write a few articles about my journey so far, the sort of challenges I’ve come across, and what’s working well. You will of course also learn of my failures by reading these articles, helping you to build up a mountain of knowledge that will hopefully help you start your own successful guilds.

The Problem I’m Trying to solve

We talk about this a lot at work. Why are we even doing this? What problem are we actually solving? So I thought I’d start here.

Problem

We have lots of people working in our company, some of us do the same job, some do similar jobs, others do completely different things to each other. How do we make sure we are learning from each other and solving problems in the most efficient way? How do we keep learning, how do we innovate?

We’ve organised ourselves into various different groups for various different reasons. Here’s a few:

Agile Teams

Agile teams are groups of people, with a variety of skillsets, all working together on a daily basis, towards a common goal e.g. a team made up of iOS, Android, Web Developers, QA specialists and UX designers building a product together.

agile teams without guilds

Tribes/Programmes

As there is usually way more work than a single team can handle, we tend to group together collections of teams working together into something called “tribes” or “programmes” of work. These groups of people might not talk to each other on a daily basis, but they probably see each other fairly often; their paths cross more often than those teams in unrelated products.

groups of teams are called tribes

Functions

Functions are groups of people doing the same (or very similar roles) that work together on a daily basis in one team together e.g. Project Managers, testers, designers etc… These are not cross-functional teams, and may rely on other teams to get their work done.

functions without guilds

Silos

Despite our best efforts, what we’ve built are silos. Silos are when we start to hear things like:

“have you heard what the <insert team name here> are doing? We could do it much better”

“I’m new to the job and I’m not sure who can review my code?”

“I’ve got an awesome idea, but I don’t know who can help me get it done”

“Don’t let <insert team here> know about…”

You might have different teams re-inventing the wheel, solving the same problems, in different ways, without learning from each other. Others in your company who may have already solved that exact. same. problem.

grayscale photography of two silo on grass
Photo by Deneen LT on Pexels.com

Silos destroy trust and make it difficult to communicate with one another. They form a barrier to collaboration – making it difficult for our organisation to make informed decisions.

Silos slow us down and make us less efficient.

Introducing “guilds”

A guild is what I’m calling a collection of people, who don’t necessarily work with each other on a daily basis, that come together to solve common problems.

guilds smash through silos

For example, you might start an Agile Guild to help supercharge the usage of Agile practices across your company, or a tester guild to help improve testing practice.

The first time I heard the term “guild” in this sort of context was as part of the Spotify engineering culture; and is interchangeable with the term “Communities of Practice” for the purposes of how I’m intending on moving forwards with this in my workplace.

How do guilds help?

Guilds smash through silos. By creating guilds, we help people doing the same or similar jobs in other parts of the business come together and talk through their problems in a structured way.

With guilds, I’m hoping to:

  • Build a support network of likeminded people
  • Create regular contact between people in different areas of the business
  • Allow people to learn together and from each other
  • Accelerate professional development – helping people master their craft
  • Create a consistent approach to solving problems e.g. shared tools etc…
  • Solve the bigger problems that only a co-ordinated effort can achieve
  • Create a safe space to experiment and learn

I’m sure there are other benefits to guilds, but this is a good start.

My rough plan to build successful guilds

Here’s my initial stab at a plan to get this going. It’s an Agile plan, so it’s based on the information/knowledge I have at this moment in time. It’s my current way of thinking, and I will adapt it based on feedback and share the results back on this site.

  1. Identify the problems that guilds are there to help solve
  2. Obtain support for guilds from leadership
  3. Find other like-minded people in my company who can help me succeed
  4. Identify what guilds are actually required and what their vision and purpose will be
  5. Find leaders for those guilds to help get them off the ground
  6. Help the leaders find contributing members to take part in those guilds on a regular basis (at least once per month)
  7. Establish some form of governance around guilds to make sure they are valuable to all that attend, and to the business as a whole
  8. Establish a feedback mechanism for continuous improvement of the guilds

Further Reading/Watching

I was initially inspired by Emily Webber’s Building Successful Communities of Practice book, it really got me thinking about some of the problems I’ve seen in my current workplace – I’d really recommend reading it.

If you’re still not sure, spend 23 mins watching this video, it has really helped me set the scene for doing what I’m doing at work. It’s mandatory watching for becoming a leader or member of a guild; it shows the vision.

And for the guild leaders, I also showed them this video about the domino chain reaction:

Those guild leaders are the small dominos...

Summary

A lot to take in I know. I hope you can see a need for guilds in your own organisation. This article is a bit different to my others. I’m on a journey and I don’t know how it’s going to work out. I hope over the following months to bring you many success stories and also some of the failures I’ve experienced along the way. If you want to join me on this journey, drop me a message on my LinkedIn profile and we can have a chat.

Stay tuned for more more updates!

Stephen Waring
Stephen Waring

I’m an enthusiastic and energetic Scrum Master who loves everything about Agile!