Cultivating communities of practice
Chapter 1: Communities of practice and their value to organizations
What is a community of practice?
These people don’t necessarily work together every day, but they meet because they find value in their interactions. They accumulate knowledge, and they become informally bound by the value that they find in learning together. This value is not merely instrumental for their work. It also accrues in the personal satisfaction of knowing colleagues who understand each other’s perspectives and of belonging to an interesting group of people. For example, artists congregate in cafes and studios to debate the merits of a new style or technique. Gang members learn to survive on the street and deal with an unfriendly world. Frontline managers running manufacturing operations get a chance to commiserate, to learn about upcoming technologies, and to foresee shifts in the winds of power.
Communities of practice are not a new idea. They were our first knowledge-based social structures, back when we lived in caves and gathered around the fire to discuss strategies for cornering prey, the shape of arrowheads, or which roots were edible. Communities of practice are everywhere, and we all belong to a number of them – at work, at school, at home, in our hobbies.
Knowledge has become the key to success and organizations need to become more intentional and systematic about “managing” knowledge. Community of practice is a good way to steward knowledge, so the age-old structure was given a new, central role in business.
Chapter 2: Communities of practice and their structural elements
Communities of practice take many forms
Small or big. Some communities of practice are small and intimate, involving only a few specialists, while others consist of hundreds of people.
Long-lived or short-lived. Some exist over centuries. For example, communities of artisans, such as violin makers, who pass their craft from generation to generation. However, many other communities of practice are shorter-lived but still last a good number of years.
Colocated or distributed. Sharing a practice requires regular interaction. Therefore, many communities starts among people who work at the same place or live nearby. However, the key of sharing knowledge is a common set of situations, problems, and perspectives, so colocation is not a necessity. Many communities of practice are distributed over wide areas. Many of them meet regularly and are connected mainly through phone and e-mail. With the development of new technologies and the need for globalization, the distributed communities of practice becomes the standard rather than the exception.
Homogeneous or heterogeneous. Some communities are homogeneous, composed of people from the same discipline or function. Others bring people with different backgrounds. For example, all people come from different functions, but they deal with a big customer or a certain country.
Inside and across boundaries. Comm