Monday, April 23, 2012

The MILSPACE Community of Practice On Fire Rendezvous- Developing Community of Practice Leaders

On Fire Rendezvous
The Role of Passion in building and maintaining a community-The annual get together of the MILSPACE Distributed On-Line Community of Practice

A refresher on Community of Practice Theory:
What is a Community of Practice? Communities of Practice are communities formed by practitioners who have a interest in a domain and who also share information through building relationships that enable them to learn from each other and apply knowledge learned to their practice-  Wenger's "Cultivating Communities of Practice" 

Important to communities of practice is the concept of identity and learning as process of identity management. Professionals become conscious of their identity, realizing who they are by identifying with their profession through relationships with fellow professionals. Once members identify with the profession, they understand their formal or informal role in helping fellow professionals reach there full potential as members and leaders of the community - Wenger “Company Command: Unleashing the Power of the Army Profession”( )

(Thanks to my Pepperdine Classmate Matt LeClair for the great slide)

So how is the death of a community of practice prevented? The passion of community members is what sustains the community for the long term and the "On Fire Rendezvous" is one way that the passion is captured and shared and the community continues to thrive.

Theory to Practice:
On page 94 of Wenger’s  “Digital Habitats” the authors write about the Company Command discussion forum,  which is part of the MILSPACE Distributed On-Line Community of Practice I am conducting my action research project on, and that I will be working with at West Point in addition to my other duties. This past weekend I was involved as a member of the core support team in the annual face to face meeting that Wenger mentions in the book. The approaches to community building described in this blog post  can be found in the book “Company Command: Unleashing the Power of the Army Profession” If you are interested in reading this book contact me and I can provide you a digital copy.

Example of the span of the 20,900 plus member MILSPACE Community of Practice

The Company Command-Platoon Leader "On Fire Rendezvous" is the name of the annual meeting. It was a pretty amazing four days in Boston. All the topic leads were in attendance as well as the core support group. A passionate group of like-minded leaders that are dedicated to serving company grade officers and unleashing the power of the profession by connecting leaders in conversation. Company grade officers are the tip of the spear and that is who the MILSPACE on-line distributed community of practice supports. We are the TIP OF THE SPEAR!

The purpose of the Rendezvous (held yearly) was to bring together the entire  team of topic leads and support group in a face-to-face session. Some topic leads have changed as have some support group members.  This was a great opportunity for the group to get to know each other and build relationships which will make them more effective in their roles as topic leads.

Three tasks of the Rendezvous were:

1.    Develop connections amongst the group
2.    Give back and contribute content to the community
3.    Become equipped to be more effective in roles as topic leads. This includes making sure leaders understand how to use forum technology

The Rendezvous kicked off the evening of the 19th with the opening session. There were total of 27 in attendance. 

In the first event of the evening the topic leads and core support team members created their "Dogtag" on a piece of easel paper. Each member either drew or used text to create their dogtag which was a reflection of who they were both professionally and personally.  After the exercise was complete the team hung the dogtags around the room so other team members could view them.

The main event of the evening was the Leadership in Action session. Leadership is at the heart of the profession and Leadership in Action sessions give members a chance to define leadership by sharing stories and saying "This is what leadership looks like." Leadership in Action sessions run as follows: in groups of 5 to 6 members have one minute or less to share a story about someone else that describes leadership in action to them, something they witnessed personally. Leadership takes on many forms and is varied as the leaders themselves.
 My story was about one of my Non-Commisioned Officers when I was a Platoon Leader in Iraq. He came up with a creative and innovative way to use a weapon system. I found that it was very challenging to get the story down to one-minute. I started off on the first round giving the background details and quickly ran out of time. By the fourth round I had it down to just the most important details of the story.

After everyone at the table has told their story, all members except one rotate to another table and the process repeats itself again. All members share the same story or a different story that might have come to mind after the last round of listening to stories. This continues until all members have rotated to all the tables. At the end the facilitator asked all members to go an stand next to the person whose story impacted them the most. 

This was a pretty powerful exercise. People stood next to each other and put a hand on the shoulder of the person whose story impacted them the most, so there were several groups of people with their arms on each others shoulders. This showed the power of storytelling and how it can connect us all.

Next, as a team we identified the common themes across all the stories we heard.

After this exercise the team moved to the Warren Tavern which was founded in 1780 and is the oldest pub in Boston. It  was a fun time as team members got to socialize and know each other better in a social setting.


The day kicked off with a team breakfast. The next event was  the breakout sessions for the platoon leader and company command discussion forums.  During the first breakout session team members and topic leads went through a certification checklist, which focused on developing the topic leads and team members expertise in using the technology tools to connect people in conversation.  Some of the tasks were to post a blog comment, start a new discussion, etc… This was done in the forums so while the topic leads and team members were certifying they were generating more content for the community.

The next breakout session was focused on identifying possible topics for discussion in the forums over the next few months and then crafting the discussion questions. The regular process for discussing topics and crafting the questions is to post in the respective PL or CC on-line team space and discuss topics and then work on the discussion questions. This planning session was different because the topic leads and team members were face to face. You could feel the energy in the room as each group discussed the ideas for the upcoming topics and how to word the questions.

Everyone then went to lunch and had a discussion in small groups about the community values which are below:
1. Speak with a positive voice
2. Act with a practical focus
3. Demonstrate a passion for quality
4. Are innovative and creative
5. Are committed to the Army
6. Foster a grass-roots and voluntary movement
7. Are radical learners
8. Appreciate, encourage, and exhibit teamwork
9. Value the individual person
10. Humbly serve each other

The next event of the day was to take a on-line "Leader Challenge”. In this exercise community members are presented with a video of an actual scenario by the platoon leader who was present during the actual event and then asked how they would respond. They bring their experience to the situation and apply it to come up with a course of action.  After they have taken the challenge they can see other community members responses. They can also find out how the scenario ended . This is a powerful tool for members to apply their experience and then learn from fellow community members. Experiential learning at its best!

The next event was to head to the Old North Church in Boston where Robert Newman climbed the steeple and held high two lanterns as a signal from Paul Revere that the British were marching to Lexington and Concord by sea and not by land. There is a dogtag memorial on the grounds of the Church for American service members who have been killed in action in the current war, ether in Iraq or Afghanistan on the grounds of the church. The entire team paused and shared stories of fellow soldiers and friends that were killed in action either in Afghanistan or Iraq. This was a very powerful and emotional event. Every member was reflecting on friends, and fellow soldiers that had been wounded or killed in action.

We then moved to Fiore restaurant for a team dinner and presentation of the “Heavy Hitter” awards.  The Heavy Hitter award is presented in the form of a baseball bat to topic leads that have made a huge impact on the community over the past year since the previous Rendezvous. This was great event to witness as team members were called forward and recognized. These professionals are making a huge impact in the profession and it is good to see them recognized by the core support team for their leadership actions in the community.

Day #3

Awesome Day!
The day started with a team event on the Charles River. Everyone got in some great exercise rowing in 8 person crew boats. For two hours we were on the water and toward the end we raced other boats. It was an awesome team building experience and really showed the power of a team when they work together.

Next stop was Harvard Business School where we had another leader challenge event, named “Leader Challenge Workshop.” Instead of taking the Leader Challenge on-line the same scenario was presented to the group, which was broken down into several small groups of 4 or 5 people. Each group had a facilitator which was a member of the core support team.  The Leader Challenge  workshop has four rounds where participants look at the scenario from different perspective and share experiences:

Round 1: Immediate situation and what would you do as Platoon Leader (Person overall in charge)
Round 2: Put on Platoon Sergeant (Second in command of a platoon)  hat and review the actions of the platoon leader
Round 3: Working together to grow a combat-effective team
Round 4: Relate to your own experiences

The next event was a leadership discussion and case study with Harvard Business School Professor and retired Army Colonel, Scott Snook ( We read a case study on Coach K, the Duke basketball coach and Coach Bobby Knight who actually coached Coach K when he was a cadet at West Point. It was a great case study in leadership styles and authentic leadership. Professor Snook had us watch video of a press conference in which Coach K talked about his trip to LA to talk to the Lakers management team about an offer. Professor Snook then led a discussion centered on if we believed what Coach K was saying and if he was authentic. It was a great discussion. Next we did the same with Coach Bobby Knight and talked about his leadership style and what we thought of his press conferences. Comparing the two coaches was a great leadership discussion on what it meant to be a passionate and authentic leader and leadership styles used to get results.

The next stop was the Red Sox-Yankees game at Fenway Park. It was a great event for the team as we got to relax, engage each other in discussion and watch two great teams play. Unfortunately the Red Sox lost 15-9 , giving up 15 runs in 2 ½ innings.

Day #4

The morning started with a team breakfast and a discussion about 3rd Generation Leadership around the Chapter discussing it in the book referenced at the beginning of this post “Company Command: Unleashing the Power of the Army Profession”. Here is an excerpt from the book on  3rd Generation Leadership " Leaders with a third generation perspective develop their subordinate leaders with future generations in mind. These leaders influence primarily by role modeling how to lead. They also make the purpose clear behind their actions in such a way that their soldiers are not only inspired but also equipped to do the same with their subordinate soldiers. A third generation mindset opens up possibilities that extend beyond leader development and expand how we think about our role within our profession. Our legacy is not only our subordinate elders and the leaders that they develop; it is also the knowledge that we create together and the advancement of the profession itself. "  This is very powerful. Think if all leaders led this way.

After the discussion the  CC & PL teams had a final break out session where they talked about what they were taking away from the Rendezvous. There were some very powerful take aways. The topic leads and team members were very inspired by the event over the weekend and were going back to their respective units fired up. This was awesome to see because that is the kind of passion and energy that is contagious and energizes people.

Final Thoughts:

The Rendezvous was a demonstration of the importance of cultivation efforts within a community of practice.  Without proper cultivation efforts, the quality of the content will not matter. Key to cultivation efforts is building relationships among the core support group, which will make them more effective as leaders in the MILSPACE community of practice.  These relationships will help connect community members looking for knowledge with members who have the knowledge.

Leadership Counts!


  1. Thanks so much for sharing this report... I could see parallels with cadrecamp but also other very effective techniques for building community.

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  3. This is really terrific Jonathan and inspiring! Thanks for sharing.