Why is Communities of Practice Important in Organisations
Understand why communities of practice is important and the best tool to naturally nurture a knowledge sharing culture in your company.
A community of practice (CoP) has long been recognised as a means of learning and sharing knowledge within organisations that seek to thrive in the digital era.
It serves many important purposes, from educating to supporting your company’s talent, encouraging their growth, driving performance, and even resolving conflicts.
In this article, we answer the most critical questions of every executive and leader – why are communities of practice important?
And in this digital-savvy world where anyone has an easy access to all kinds of resources, would CoP still work for companies?
Understanding CoP: A Quick Review
In essence, communities of practice are formed when people who share the same domain (or expertise) come together to learn and share their insights about specific topics.
In the present world, CoPs are formed not only to promote knowledge sharing. Members meet and interact regularly, discuss various topics, initiate projects, and conduct other activities to improve many areas of their organisation or industry.
According to Étienne Wenger, educational theorist and practitioner and a known proponent of communities of practice, learning doesn’t take place with the master, rather, among the apprentices.
He also said that learning cannot be separated from a social context, which reinforce the importance of community experts or practitioners gathering together to brainstorm and develop ways to better things.
Wenger notes that there are five critical functions of communities of practice:
Every member of a CoP has some knowledge to share.
Being “experts” in the subject, each promotes learning by sharing ideas, information, skills, and techniques that help answer questions or issues raised within their practice.
Communities of practice is a great place for people with the same interest and goals to collaborate.
It is a viable network where members benefit from one another as they create a pool of data and resource that strengthens each one’s knowledge and experience.
CoP makes a great learning avenue for individuals in the same industry, field or practice. What makes it even more effective is that it provides continuous learning.
As members meet and interact, the more knowledge they acquire.
Members are able to promote their work, ideas and concepts to the rest of the community through sharing and discussions.
In communities of practice, members are encouraged to apply their new knowledge to their own work and drive more impact.
Importance of Communities of Practice to an Organisation
From a ‘social theory of learning’ introduced by Lave and Wenger in 1991, communities of practice have become increasingly popular among corporate organisations.
According to an article published in the 2006 Cybernetics and Systems: An International Journal, CoP benefits organisations in two ways:
- Information exchange – search for and the delivery of information.
- Networking – meta-activities focused on promoting relationships among members of the organisation.
In this report, the authors note that CoP activities can be described as a two-stage information process.
Apart from being part of the community, each member is also a part of a formal organisational unit that is required to fulfil a specific task (which is basically their role or function in the organisation).
The community activities they participate in are performed in a secondary group, which are meant to support their primary activities or main functions.
These activities are usually informal and involve a lot of sharing experiences, learning from each other, and networking.
All these positively impact the organisation in three ways: knowledge, business performance, and socialisation.
Why Focus on Communities of Practice?
Implementing communities of practice within your organisation can have many valuable benefits to your company as a whole and to your staff.
For your organisation, CoPs are a great tool to promote problem-solving, knowledge-sharing, and efficient use of resources, all of which are critical to professional learning.
CoPs provide a shared context where members of the organisation can communicate and share information; stimulate learning through peer-to-peer mentoring, coaching, self-reflection, and collaboration; generate new knowledge; and initiate projects that develop tangible results.
CoPs also help establish synergies across various units of your organisation. More importantly, CoPs strengthen your company’s strategic capabilities.
Through constant interaction and discussion, your staff is able to focus on the most important issues and initiate ways to resolve them.
It also ensures that everyone is up to date with the latest information, techniques and practices that other organisations are doing. Other long-term benefits of promoting CoPs in your company is innovation and creation of new strategies.
Even your employees benefit from communities of practice. Primarily, it gives them access to knowledge and expertise that they would not easily gain on their own.
This builds their confidence, enhances their quality of work, promotes personal development, and makes their work even more meaningful. All these contribute to talent retention.
Setting Up a CoP in Your Organisation
Now that you understand the benefits of CoPs in your organisation, it’s time to set it up. Here are some basic steps to get started:
Call for a meeting to establish a core group of community stakeholders and subject matter experts.
These people can then identify the role and purpose of the community, and how they will go about the details, from determining each member’s roles to scheduling meetings, communication, etc.
Create an online structure where these people can collaborate and collect all the information, resources and other data gathered through their regular interaction.
Review processes. From time to time, review which processes are effective and which ones need to be updated, changed or completely eliminated.
Now, if you have a scrum master, s/he can easily help you with setting up and nurturing your CoPs. We also highly recommend for new Scrum masters to set this up in the first six months of stay in a company.
In the article “Is Yours a Learning Organization?”, Harvard Business Professors David Garvin and Amy Edmondson explained that learning is what enables companies to stay ahead of change and the competition.
Communities of practice is a great tool to facilitate learning within your organisation.
More than its ability to educate, CoPs support, cultivate, encourage and integrate learning that helps your team produce high-performing and knowledgeable team members, CoPs greatly contribute to the creation of new strategies, processes and innovation that result to tangible outcomes.
Even with the great advancement of technologies that we have now, we still see the importance of having a face-to-face style of CoPs.
Facebook has been improving their Facebook Workplace and there are other tools to integrate technology in nurturing CoPs. But still, nothing beats a live lively exchange of innovative ideas.