Getting your Guilds Going!

blog, distributed, management30

I believe in craftsmanship. I believe that when you are a real professional, you constantly want to learn and grow your skills. You can find more about that subject in my blog What did you do to become a better professional. I also believe that as a manager, but also a professional, you should try to build an organization where people have the opportunity to learn and grow themselves. You should stimulate people to visit conferences, to go to other companies to exchange experiences, to read books, to do training on sites such as PluralSight, to read blogs, and maybe even write blogs themselves, etc. I think it is equally important, however, to show your people that you are serious about knowledge development. You can do this by giving people the opportunity to develop themselves during working hours.  

I worked at different companies and I always promoted knowledge development. Part of my strategy is always to set up a framework where people regularly meet and discuss their discipline. At some companies we called it professional circles and at other companies we called it Guilds. I like the word Guild nowadays better because it links to being a craftsman.

A Guild is an organic and wide-reaching “community of interest”, a group of people that wants to share knowledge, tools, code, and practices. Some examples are: the the Tester Guild, the Scrum Master Guild, etc. The goal of a Guild is to become better craftsman. This can be done by discussing new technologies, sharing experiences and inviting people from outside. The Guild is not intended to discuss work-related issues.

At my current company we have for example a Scrum Master Guild. I consider myself the Guild Master and I am therefore responsible for facilitating the Guild sessions. Besides, the Scrum Master Guild sessions we also have the Testing Guild that is very active.

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What about management?

When you are going to organize your Guilds it is important, as with many things, to have support from management. Explain the concept of guilds and perhaps include ancient concepts such as apprentices (juniors), journeymen (mediors) and masters (seniors). Note that there is a lot to learn from the historical ways a guild was organized, mind you not all was well though. Then explain why you are going to organize the guild sessions. For me the goal is to increase the knowledge of the people who attend the guild, in my case make them better Scrum Masters by exchanging experiences. The Guild is not intended to discuss project issues. We are not going to discuss specific problems of teams of individuals. My statement is: “Every Scrum Master in the world should be able to attend our Scrum Master Guild session and find it interesting.” No knowledge about the project or company should be necessary. Arguments to convince management of the advantages of Guilds can be:

  • You will develop knowledge of your professionals because people who attended external conferences can share their knowledge in their Guild.
  • You can use it to build your company brand and promote your company, I believe you want to hire professionals who want to attend Guild sessions.
  • It will grow cross-team relationships between people with the same profession working in different teams.

Mandatory to attend or not?

Let us say that your management is OK with organizing Guild sessions and you invite people for the meeting. You schedule one and a half hours, every third Thursday of the month, from 10:30 till 12:00. Next thing is that there will be people who will ask you: “Do I have to attend this meeting?” What to do? Personally, I would like to say: “Yes, this meeting is mandatory.” However, I also believe you cannot force people to learn. The Guild is all about learning and sharing for me. Therefore, I will say: “No, but why don’t you attend one or two times? Just give it a try.” It is up to you, as the Guild Master, to make the Guild Session so attractive that everyone wants to attend.

Who will organize all those Guild sessions?

The moment is there… the first Guild session is underway. You prepared a kick-ass presentation about a new concept, framework, technology, tool, etc. People loved it, you know because you used the happiness door. It was a success! Congratulations! But… next month there has to be a next Guild session… are you again going to present a topic, or will you ask for a volunteer? When you ask for volunteers there will always be some people willing to present a session, no worries about that. However, I believe every professional should be able to present a tool, technique, idea or whatever to a group of people. Therefore, I always assign Guild sessions to all people in the Guild and I will make them responsible for organizing their session. People are free to attend the Guild meetings, they can learn a lot of new things. The only thing I ask in return is to organize at least one Guild session themselves. My experience so far is that this concept works quite well. Of course, the sessions will differ in quality between good and epic. Most important is that all attendees are contributing and you do not need to organize every session yourself. When I was Guild Master of the Testers Guild, I always asked one tester to present a testing technique and how they applied that technique in their products. I asked another tester to tell something about testing. Could be about how they tested in his or her previous company, or a conference the tester visited, it was up to him or her. It worked like a charm! Note that again people are free to swap sessions or to reorganize certain things. Sometimes a deadline will prevent someone from preparing a good session so it is then better that they organize some other guild member stepping in themselves.

If you want to learn about Guilds, and modern organizations, attend a Management 3.0 Workshop.

To be distributed or not?

More and more companies are working with distributed teams on multiple locations. In my opinion, the amount of people working in distributed teams will only grow. Working distributedly also has an impact on your Guild session. Depending on the hardware and facilities that you have, it will become less efficient. Fifteen people in one room can discuss things more efficiently than seven people in one room and eight people on the other side of the world. You will have to decide for yourself, are you going to organize local Guild sessions or distributed Guild sessions? Advantages of having distributed Guild sessions are that people from different locations are sharing knowledge and thus growing relations over different locations. The advantages of having local Guild sessions are that they tend to be more efficient and it is regarded as easier to discuss topics. You have to decide for yourself what works best in your organization. I would advise you to start distributedly and have all people in one Guild Session. This is the most challenging setup, but in this case I prefer to go for the most challenging setup. I believe this set up gives most value to the organization. It is always possible to switch to plan B, having Guild sessions per location.

A Guild doesn’t stop at 12:00

The Guild doesn’t stop after the meeting itself. Provide a location where people can share information about what is discussed in the Guild. In one company we used Yammer and we had a Yammer group per Guild. In this group, we shared the materials of the Guild sessions but also had discussions about topics outside of the meetings and shared interesting blogs and/or websites. Again, lead by example. If you are the Guild Master, make sure you share something every week. Make sure the Guild group is the place to be when you want to know more about the topic of the Guild. If you don’t have Yammer you can also use a Wiki or maybe even a private group on Facebook or Google+.

Help me!

What if you did everything I wrote in this blog, you copied all the best practices from Spotify, you read the workout How Corporate Huddles and Tribal Culture Build Team Collaboration by Jurgen Appelo and it still doesn’t work. What to do? Of course the answer is: it depends… but I only say it depends if I can finish the sentence as well:)

  • No one attends, nobody seems interested. You should ask yourself the question: is my organization ready for Guilds. Perhaps people don’t want to learn, perhaps they just want to work and not spend any energy in self education? If that is the case, I advise you to check out this site.
  • We are having Guild sessions and people are organizing sessions but the quality is so so, and sometimes even worse. Not everyone is a brilliant presenter, not everyone is gifted with a talent to speak for a group of people. It is OK, accept it. The good thing is people are willing to share their knowledge, they are willing to learn! Maybe you could take a look at the course Introduction to Presentation Design on PluralSight and share the highlights in a Guild session?
  • Having a single Guild session where multiple locations join in just doesn’t work but we really want to have one Guild session. Er, if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. However, who wants to have one session exactly: you, the attendees or someone else? And also why? And why doesn’t it work? Try to find the root cause and solve that problem. Try to make small improvements and review those improvements. And do not let other people decide what a Guild should or should not do. Let the Guild decide themselves.
  • It is getting too big… people from other departments would like to join in, testers are joining the development Guild session now as well. HELP? Why? Why do you need help? Congratulations! You made it a success, you don’t think in silos. Wouldn’t it be great if developers will learn more about testing, testers more about development, and support engineers join the Testers Guild?

Closing thoughts and where to go from here

Organizing guild sessions, making people aware and giving them the opportunity to learn is important. In my opinion, it is part of creating a self learning organization. However, it can be very challenging to set up the Guild sessions. However, when you get it up and running, it can be very rewarding. So give it a try, inspect and adapt, make it a success!

If you want to read more about Guilds I advise you to read the workout Business Guilds and Corporate Huddles that Jurgen Appelo describes in his book Workout. In his workout he also refers to other articles and blogs about Guilds. Let me know the challenges you encounter and share your experiences please, imagine we are all in the Guild Organizers Guild.

If you want to learn more about how to help your team develop themselves, attend a Management 3.0 Foundation Workshop!


7 thoughts on "Getting your Guilds Going!"

  • Rob Jansen says:

    Nice article. We are also starting with Guilds recently and I think it will work better than having someone ‘in the lead’ for a certain competence area. As said in the article your organization needs to be ready. We are doing Agile/Scrum for a few years but I think that we could not have started with Guilds sooner. I am curious to see how it will work out. We also have the challenge of people not all working on the same location but also they already volunteered for the Guild.

    • Ralph says:

      Thanks for you comment.

      Yes my experience is indeed also that you have someone who will be the promotor/coordinator/lead, whatever you wanna call it. Nice to hear people are volunteering for the Guilds!

      Curious about how things will work out.

  • Martin P says:

    Hi Ralph,

    thank you for this article. Lately, we have decided to start a Quality Engineering guild at our company. This article is a brilliant guide on how to get it going 🙂

  • Todd says:

    This is a wonderful article and very relevant for what I’m going through at the moment in my organisation. Coming from one where setting up Guilds was much simpler because everyone wanted to learn, share knowledge, and get involved, to now where everyone is focused on working only, it’s definitely a challenge. In the ‘Help Me’ section, there was a link you suggested to check out, but it seems the link has expired since. Any direction on what this was would be appreciated.

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