Communities of Practice in Organisations: Leveraging Your Pool of Talents
The communities of practice in companies are not just a trend that you should follow. Read this article to find out why you have to start using CoP.
Emerging startups and growing companies looking to scale and reshape their organisations in the digital era can immensely benefit from implementing communities of practice (CoPs) in their organisations. It can also positively influence many areas including innovation, leadership, cultivation of a “learning culture”, camaraderie, and employee retention which all leads to substantial growth.
According to an article written by Etienne and Beverly Wenger- Trayner (2015), “Introduction to Communities of Practice” A Brief Overview of the Concept and its Uses, business organisations have readily embraced the recognition of knowledge and information being a critical asset that needs to be allocated strategically.
But in this fast-paced digital age where information explosion fills almost all platforms, this question remains: How do we best implement communities of practice?
Let me eliminate your guesswork by presenting the Top 7 principles for cultivating successful communities of practice in organisations/companies:
CoPs must be independent from the structure of organisations. They should be based on what members want from each other, free from the control or authority of management where they work under.
It is to be noted that CoPs are different from work-related team assignments, work units, task forces or project alignment. Rather, they are formed around members with common interests.
Teams may share some qualities but aren’t self-forming and their existence is usually to get the work done in the organisation. On the other hand, communities are formed to help members be better at their jobs and sharpen their expertise or skills.
The table below enumerates some key difference in organisational teams and communities:
Communities of practice in organisations/companies are not defined by the websites, blog sites, intranet sites, forums, or collaboration spaces.
They are the actual people who use these tools and has specific qualities and components. I have discussed more of these details here.
Community membership and leadership are based on personal volition. They exercise their own subscription and should never be forced to join.
Their desire and passion is what fuels the community and sustains it. Natural interaction stems from willingness and what makes them successful overtime is their inclination to create enough excitement, value and relevance.
Communities transcend borders, geographies, and boundaries. It spans a multitude of diversity, experience and insights to better solve common problems.
Although some may argue that they want to build a specific community, for example, a product-focused community which involves only people from the technical department.
There may be discussions that they would find interesting, but there may also be customer concerns that salespeople may encounter and only technical people can solve.
Meanwhile, there could be topics that members from the marketing team may find useful as they gain more technical knowledge about the product(s).
The benefits of being more inclusive far outweigh the disadvantages of having separate CoPs.
These benefits include having more participants in online discussions, members gaining more experience and insights, additional perspectives, and different ways to approach or tackle a topic.
For a CoP to work, there has to be a significant number of members. Ideally, it must be a big community, consisting of 100-200 members.
Why? Typically, within CoPs, only 10% of members actively participate in regular activities, from presenting topics to initiating projects, and joining forums.
Thus, a very small community (say a group of 20), is less likely to achieve great results as compared with a large community of practitioners.
Lastly, communities of practice in organisations/companies should be nurtured. The leadership team of the organisation should be able to create, build, and sustain these communities.
The primary step is to find a topic that you want to address in the community. Topics should be compelling enough to gain the interest of the community members.
Potential members must find it relevant and should be passionate enough to attain collaboration.
How can companies nurture these communities without being directly involved?
According to an article published in 2000 entitled Communities of Practice: The Organizational Frontier by Etienne C. Wenger & William M. Snyder, while communities may be informal and self-organising in nature, they still require cultivation, nevertheless.
And like the analogy on gardens, they are stimulated by care and attention but should be cultivated based on their nature.
The fact also remains for companies that grow communities of practice from seed. To get these communities going – and sustain them over time – you as a leader should keep in mind the following points:
- Identify potential communities of practice that will enhance the company’s strategic capabilities.
In most cases, these networks of informal people with the capabilities and passion already exist in a given organisation. The goal is to find such groups and help them come together as communities of practice.
- Provide the infrastructure that will support such communities and enable them to apply their expertise effectively.
You can help communities reach their full potential by providing inclusive support in the business integration. One suggestion is linking the community to related initiatives such as corporate universities.
You as the executive must be ready to invest time and money in assisting such communities as they run up against obstacles.
- Use nontraditional methods to assess the value of the company’s communities of practice.
The best way for a senior executive to assess the value of a community of practice is by listening to members’ stories in a systematic way.
But you do not just collect certain stories, perhaps at least get the most compelling ones, because isolated events can be unrepresentative. A systematic effort better ensures to capture the diversity and range of activities that communities are involved in.
Understanding the ways we can better implement and nurture CoPs can greatly enhance the success rate of our company goals and helps to further encapsulate the satisfaction and adaptability of our organisational talents.
That said, most organisations still have challenges understanding the value of communities of practice. For one thing, the effects of community activities are often delayed.
To further add, results generally appear in the work of teams and business units, not in the communities themselves. But all in all, the rewards – as I’ve highlighted in this post – always come in multitudes overcoming the weight of the challenges it presents.