We report on the establishment of communities of practice at four Australian institutions and evaluate their effectiveness and durability as a means of building staff and institutional capacity for interdisciplinary teaching. A community of practice approach is a potentially valuable methodology for overcoming dynamics of fragmentation, isolation and competition within universities. The communities we established were anchored by a shared focus on the topic of climate change and they worked collaboratively to build relationships of trust and reciprocity between teachers in a wide range of disciplines. The aim of each community was to improve the teaching of climate change through enabling members to integrate diverse disciplinary perspectives, to teach collaboratively, to promote innovation through exchange and to demonstrate leadership within their institutions. The key factors that made our communities effective and durable are: (1) designation of two leadership roles, activator and facilitator, (2) provision for institutional autonomy in domesticating the model to fit local circumstances and (3) a pragmatic emphasis on opportunities for teaching innovation and leadership within existing administrative structures, teaching programs and workloads. We conclude that suitably designed and resourced communities of practice are a viable means of improving interdisciplinary teaching of complex problems by facilitating both staff development and institutional learning.