5 Communities of Practice Rules To Improve Your Company Knowledge Capital
Here are some of the most important communities of practice rules that you should never break. Follow them and you will see the growth of your CoPs.
So you’ve heard about Communities of Practice from the grapevine? Exciting isn’t it? It’s just the most natural way to harness the inner genius of your team. It’s like constructing a playground for highly vetted talents you hired and you’re letting them play, make friends, and do some awesome magic for your company.
And they don’t have to feel forced doing the work because it’s something they enjoy doing for your company. Imagine high-spirited talents doing nothing but to diligently improve your company because they enjoy working for you and their workmates.
That’s how powerful CoPs are.
So how does it really work? The framework of Communities of Practice can be a little tricky. And without proper planning and systems in place, it will take time before your company fully reap its full potential.
So we suggest that you start with these immutable communities of practice rules in planning and setting up your company CoPs.
Membership should be voluntary
Communities of Practice are voluntary which makes them different from your regular company teams. The members focus on the value that they can offer to each other and to your company.
In the earlier stage, this value may be sourced from the needs of the community and the current issues. As it undergoes several stages, such value evolves into a systematic body of knowledge which members should be able to access easily.
Generally speaking, it is a much better option when participation is voluntary in your company’s Communities of Practice.
When the participation becomes compulsory, it faces the risk of making the community as another meeting that one has to attend and endure. It can affect the social energy that boosts meaningful learning in Communities of Practice.
Recruit participants who are deemed as experts and a credible source of information
One of the many benefits of Communities of Practice is that it can produce and refine tacit knowledge from your workforce which could have been hidden if not for the social learning mechanism of CoPs.
In order to realise this benefit, it is crucial that participants have intermediate or at least have basic knowledge in the shared interest of the community in order to share valuable information and content.
This requirement will ensure that the community is not really starting from zero (no prior related knowledge means you have to provide more support, structure, effort, and training).
Upon successful entry, the participant has to accomplish one knowledge-development project every year in order to keep his status in the community.
His participation is funded by the business units which in turn provides other funding ventures such as the annual projects, workshop attendance and annual conferences.
Of all the communities of practice rules, this can be a little harsh but this ensures that you’re funding an investment that is meant to be rewarded with great return.
Support and nurture the existing Communities of Practice
Just like all networks, Communities of Practice need nurturing. Someone usually takes the lead in establishing the community.
Often, the need to set up a community starts from simply caring about the issues in the workplace. Members invite colleagues so they can learn and grow together.
They become involved in learning conversations using an inquiry approach. This leads to working together with an aim to deepen the understanding of practice by the members. It also leads to finding the best evidence to help members enhance their practice.
As someone with a management role, you can offer your CoPs to provide a resource speaker in their sessions. The speaker can be from non-competing organisation or company who are knowledgeable in topics that your CoPs discuss.
The more diverse and dynamic the resource speakers you bring to your CoPs, the more exponential their knowledge growth would be. It’s like investing in stocks; the only difference is that CoPs only grow in compounding interest for your company.
It also paves the way for the group to evolve and form subgroups on its own even if it was established for a specific topic.
To summarise, nurturing Communities of Practice include the following activities:
- Negotiating the group’s strategic context
- Legitimising the members’ participation
- Fine-tuning the organisation
- Leveraging the existing practices
- Providing various forms of support such as guidance, resources, and links to other communities
The focus should be on gathering information as opposed to making decisions or taking action
While growing your company’s CoPs, immediate results should not be expected yet. In the short term, the value is really in the open communication among members when they share their problems and needs.
In the long term, a systematic collection of knowledge should be built which members can easily access. This can be in the form of proceedings, wikis, knowledge-base, internal company blogs, and archives.
As your company CoPs continuously grow and evolve, so is the knowledge capital of your company.
Your job is to make it sure that as your CoPs evolve, you put strategic systems and frameworks that reap all information encoded in each interaction and discussion of your company CoPs.
The management should not dictate action
You should not manage the Communities of Practice in a heavy-handed way. While Communities of Practice provide a relatively different approach to reach the same goal, it also provides a different kind of structure meant for focusing on knowledge sharing.
Members thrive in an environment based on collegial relationships as opposed to reporting and manager-employee relationships. Furthermore, the community leaders (Communities of Practice coordinators) are deemed as peers and not as bosses.
Stick to these communities of practice rules as you develop and grow your company CoPs. You may adjust some details as the needs arise but it all comes back to these five simple rules.
Adapting CoPs can be daunting especially for companies with a traditional mindset. But times are changing and the people you will be working with are different from the people you used to work five to ten years ago.
Employee retention rate is getting lower each year and everyone would want to pursue their own “startups” to scratch their entrepreneurial itch. But we’re all a social animal.
Everybody loves working with other people. So this is where CoPs becomes your secret weapon. It’s the first few steps that you have to make to build high performing company that is capable of evolving to face new challenges in the days to come.