Communities of Practice Approach to IT Innovation

Communities of Practice Approach to IT Innovation

The coronavirus has made a significant impact on the way we all live and work, and while these changes have been difficult to navigate at times, they have also fostered innovative thinking to solve business challenges, especially when it comes to IT.

A global pandemic may not feel like the right time for IT teams to get creative, but at TIAA we see it as an opportunity to refine our approach to problem solving through our global Communities of Practice. These small teams are organized around a concept or technique and are managed from the bottom-up instead of the top-down, providing associates an outlet where they can identify and solve challenges they’re passionate about and that may fall outside of their day-to-day responsibilities. Separate from our scrum teams, these “side gigs” offer free-flowing collaboration across the business without a need for project codes or funding requests.

To implement Communities of Practice, we follow three key steps:

1. Develop a transformative topic, problem statement

The first step in building a Community of Practice is identifying challenges for teams to solve. Topics can either be proposed by leadership or, more often, arise internally from a group of practitioners. While communities are self-selecting and self-managing, their focus is on challenges that are relevant, can be integrated across the business, and are mutually beneficial for all involved.

2. Attract a passionate, core group of exemplar talent

Our associates volunteer to be part of communities because they’re centered on a topic or challenge they find interesting, but that may fall outside of their daily responsibilities or that provide an opportunity to work with new colleagues. Our Communities attract top talent looking to use their abilities to solve challenges while learning new skills that will help them to be more effective in their current – and future – roles and that can elevate their visibility within the company.

3. Organize around small, incremental outcomes

This approach is critical in driving towards progress. Setting – and achieving – small, incremental goals can lead to transformative change within an organization.

While our communities were in place prior to the pandemic, they have garnered additional interest as our teams adapt to a virtual working environment. Specifically, our Telemetry and Data Movement Communities have contributed product to our next-generation application and data architecture accelerating digital transformation. These efforts have lowered software costs and risk, generated new business opportunities for real-time analytics, and enhanced experiences for clients and plan participants.

As we all continue to navigate these challenging times, fostering creativity through Communities of Practice can provide associates with the opportunity to build their professional skills, work with colleagues across lines of business, and enhance their career mobility while solving complex business challenges.

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Ned Carroll

Ned Carroll, Senior Managing Director, Chief Data Officer, TIAA

Ned joined TIAA in October 2017, as Senior Managing Director, Chief Data Officer. In his role he is responsible for establishing a corporate-level strategy for the management and use of data. He has accountability for data management polic... More   View all posts


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Ned Carroll


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