What is a community of practice
“Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.”
Essentially, a community of practice is a group who ‘meet up’ at regular intervals in order to share their knowledge and skills either knowingly or unknowingly and all have a ‘common goal’. This creates synergy in terms of knowledge management where the sum of their collective knowledge is greater than the sum of it being separate.
There are three components Wenger-Trayner states that all CoPs must have in order to be one;
- Domain: A shared area of interest of expertise that may or may not is valued by people outside the ‘domain’
- Community: Joint discussions and activities to foster a sense of community which is when knowledge sharing begins
- Practice: Create the shared resources to create a shared practice, which can be self-conscious or has been consciously done by the group or external influence
In Harnessing your staff’s informal networks, they state that CoPs are an informal network of in-house experts which they believe could have great value to businesses and thus should be ‘harnessed’. In terms of harnessing, the business should look into integration of the community of practice into the formal managerial structure, through the giving of goals, accountability and ‘clear executive oversight’.
The article also further lists other things that will improve the chances of the group’s success including;
- Focus on issues important to the business: Strategic goals and direction
- Establish community goals and deliverables: Community goals are more long-sighted, whereas explicit goals are more team-based
- Provide more governance: Need to establish purpose and values and guide the community
Benefits of CoPs
- Knowledge network: Enables employees to share their knowledge with each other
- Reduced resource loss: Information silos are not as apparent, knowledge is protected from turnover and employees are credited
- Improved efficiency and innovation
- Guided communities are strongly more aligned to business goals
- Networking could also potentially lead to greater team cohesion and social capital (Week Six)
Social media as the missing link: Connecting communities of practice to business strategy
How its value is measured
Unlike most other business initiatives, there are no definitive quantitative measures such as Return on Investment (ROI) to use as there are no traditional monetary gains. Instead social metrics such as Return on Attention which focuses on member participation and the quality of participation. This is completely measurable whether it’s in terms of how much of the information contributed led to better project results or the difference in experience and skills of people participating
CoPs and Social Media
In today’s globalised and digitised world, CoPs are now able to be utilised through the Internet and even the use of social media technologies increases the potential. This means that people from separate physical locations can coordinate and share information not only from a difference but communication asynchronously is possible.
An example of a successful COP
‘Collaborative forums’ were used by the company in charge of the Bengalla Coal Mines in Australia. In this situation, one of their bulldozers would stop working which damaged productivity and in turn, damaged the earning potential of the business. Members of the organisation in that area were initially unable to figure out what the ‘core issue’ was but felt that other organisations must experience the same issue.
When they shared this fault online, they received two responses including one from Rio Tinto. It was the information that Rio Tinto provided right down to minute details, that led to the solution to the problem.