Community of Practice and Innovation
CoP is a social learning theory that has been around driving innovation within various companies. Read more about Community of Practice and innovation here
Communities of practice have paved the way for the development of a more structured way of learning for many multinational corporations.
The term community of practice was first introduced by Wenger and Lave in 1991 to describe learning and sharing of knowledge through building relationships with professionals who follow similar practices and have common interests.
But how would it really drive innovation in your company?
While knowledge is an intangible resource, it fuels our economy in this era which we’re sure you’re very much aware of.
According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, electronic manufacturing, education, insurance, healthcare, communications, and information are among the types of businesses that heavily rely on the knowledge economy.
Instead of solely relying on educational background, the knowledge-driven economy depends on the skills, techniques, and practices that your employees learn by performing and completing tasks and evaluating results and reports together with the rest of your team.
How CoPs Operate in This Knowledge-Based Era
A community of Practice (CoP) is among the best ways to collect, manage, and disseminate knowledge (especially tacit knowledge) within members of your company.
According to Wenger, CoP performs the following fundamental functions:
With CoP, groups of professionals with the same interests and practices can set up group interactions and collaborations. A great display of this function can be seen from the CoP of Oracle, a software company in the US.
Their CoP leader assumes the role of coordinating discussions between the members to ensure that the community’s goals are met at the end of the day.
During group discussions, members of a CoP can share their experiences. In turn, the rest of the members can pinpoint the mistakes and suggest improvements.
Their CoP is comprised of heart surgeons and cardiologists. Collaboratively, they determine and address common problems encountered during an operation.
They collect and collate information by holding informal meetings with the members plus external resource authorities.
Members feel more at ease discussing and sharing their best practices in solving a certain problem when they are encouraged by the rest of the community.
It is also crucial to recognise the effort of those who succeed in using the practices and skills they learned from fellow members.
Thought leaders help the group sustain learning progress during the different developmental stages of the CoP. They do it by hosting cyclic events or allowing members to host their own event.
The main goal of CoP is to help a group of professionals with common interest and goals to learn practices and skills by means of regular interaction with fellow experts.
CoP challenges members of the organisation to apply the practices they learned to solve real-world problems.
In Alberta, CoP was used to improve interprofessional practice and communication. This type of social learning method helped improve patient safety.
A Community of Practice is More than Acquiring Information
It’s important to emphasise that CoP isn’t limited to acquiring knowledge. It is, after all, a collaborative form of learning.
It’s crucial for each member to actively engage and contribute their knowledge and practices with the rest of the community.
Here are other reasons why corporate learners and trainers find CoP useful and why we think it’s about time for you to ramp up your own company CoPs:
Solving complex problems and creating new opportunities
With collaborative learning, your team can gather, verify, test, and collate knowledge resource with fellow professionals on the spot.
You can use the newly acquired information to solve problems, open new discussions, improve outdated practices, and come up with new business opportunities.
Building stronger connections and improving communication
Community of practice encourages communication and sincere bonding between the leaders and the members.
As a social learning theory, CoP focuses on the relationships between members instead of the structure of the organisation.
How Creating CoP Drives Innovation – Case Studies
Communities of practice have been recognised officially for more than 25 years already and it has helped create groundbreaking development to various corporations and industries.
Below are a few concrete examples of how a community of practice can drive innovation in various industries in t he digital era.
Enhancing the skills of newly hired employees
According to an article published in the Harvard Business Review, the HR department must carefully design the onboarding process because it can affect employee retention rate.
Majority of new hires decide to leave or stay in a company within six months based on how well the HR handles the onboarding process.
In the US Office of Personnel Management (OPM), they established an onboarding CoP to help agencies improve their onboarding of newly hired employees.
Improving health care services for patients suffering from multiple chronic diseases
CoP is not limited to the knowledge transfers in the business sector. It is also used in healthcare to improve the skills of medical professionals and address common patient concerns.
A study published in the Annals of Family Medicine discussed the potential of CoP in improving primary nursing care to patients with multimorbidity.
It discussed how caring for patients suffering from two or more chronic diseases requires a lot of finesse and flexibility and how nurses can learn how to tailor their approach according to the specific needs of the patient through CoP.
The researchers focused on the efficacy of COP, the proposed design of the CoP, tools required, and roles of leaders and coordinators.
CoP for Small and Medium Enterprises
Most of the time, only large companies that have thousands of employers and hundreds of business units use CoP.
If CoP is created to improve knowledge management, open new doors of opportunities and solve complex problems through group discussions, then why won’t SMEs use it to their advantage?
Steven Pattinson et. al (2011) investigated the potential use of CoP for science-based SMEs in North England.
Pattinson’s team interviews with business owners revealed that it’s unlikely for SMEs to establish a community with their fellow SMEs owners because of the steep competition and the cultural and organisational differences.
The research showed that the use of CoP is often neglected by SMEs. In theory, CoP can contribute to the knowledge innovation and acquisition.
For example, members of a CoP of SMEs can learn techniques in dealing with suppliers, hiring employees, dealing with taxes, and optimising their social capital.
These are just a few case studies of how impactful CoPs are to businesses regardless of how small or big it is.
The truth is if your company want to optimally utilise your workforce; continuously grow your knowledge capital by harnessing the tacit knowledge of your team; and see tangible results of innovation, building your own CoPs is not a matter of choice anymore.
If you want to know how CoPs fit to the overall picture of organisational mastery, check out our scorecard and see how your company fares.