Communities of Practice: Everything You Need To Know
Communities of Practice (CoP) is defined as an organized group of professional people who share the same interests in resolving an issue, improving skills, and learning from each other’s experiences.
Communities of Practice has been an efficient way of leveraging businesses over the past decades.
Every company that implements CoPs is expected to rapidly and effectively increase its success compared to their competitors due to its impact such as:
- Eases up the adaptation stage of newly hired employees since the communities of practice serve as a mentor in understanding their role and most of all, how their work is essential to the company. In addition to that, newly hired employees can obtain a sense of belongingness through the help of communities of practice.
- Projects with community backing are executed faster because employees have some sort of “buy-in” in the plans. Compared to executives just issuing “orders”, employees don’t feel like they’re just blindly following plans they don’t have any personal involvement.
- It helps the member of CoPs to think outside of the box in creating additional services and products of the company during a brainstorming session.
- CoPs help companies recruit and retain talent. You can easily identify who among your employees are competent and can work productively with other employees in a community of practice.
- CoPs serve as your first line of defence in the company. They can turn weaknesses into strengths for as long as they work together.
Best Approach to Implement the CoPs
There are two frameworks you can use to implement the communities of practice in your company. First one is canonical in which a company has formal rules or process that must be followed by the member of a community of practice.
The other one is a non-canonical approach which is the opposite of the first framework. CoPs created through Non-canonical framework rely on the informal “routines” that the members do during their meetup “sessions”.
Some time ago we wrote a blog post called: 10 Communities Of Practice Best Practices, I think this could be interesting as well.
Below are some of the factors that you must consider:
- The communities of practice members should be independent in constructing an organizational structure to ensure that they meet their objectives and be truly helpful towards the company’s objectives.
- The membership of communities of practice is voluntary. Let your employees select their group based on their interest and interact with other members freely based on topics that attract them the most. If members are forced to join, the tendency of them being uncooperative is high.
- Communities of practice are not websites or blogs that you manage; it is a group of professional members. In line with this, it cannot be complete if it will only have members of less than five persons. It’s more effective with a larger membership.
- The growth of the company lies within the people working for it. Therefore, members of the communities of practice should be nurtured in every possible way. As the employer or as an executive, you must be more than willing to listen and weigh in their suggestions that might lead to drastic but good changes in the company.
Community Of Practices FAQs
- A community of practice is a group of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do, and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly. This definition reflects the fundamentally social nature of human learning
- Conceptual models for community work are schemas that shape and define an approach to practice. Models knit together theoretical concepts and connect them to guidelines for action and as such, serve as powerful teaching, planning, analytic, and self-evaluation tools for community practice.
- A community of practice (CoP) is a group of people who share a common concern, a set of problems, or an interest in a topic and who come together to fulfill both individual and group goals.
- Communities of practice are important as a professional learning strategy, because they have the potential to: ... Stimulate learning by serving as a vehicle for authentic communication, mentoring, coaching, and self-reflection.
- A Community of Practice is driven by the value it brings to the members. People volunteer to be part of the community because it is interesting, and it helps them to be more effective. A CoP normally has a much longer life than a project team or task force. It continues as long as it is useful to its members.
- Communities of Practice. Communities of Practice (CoPs) are organized groups of people who have a common interest in a specific technical or business domain. They collaborate regularly to share information, improve their skills, and actively work on advancing the general knowledge of the domain
The Pillars of Communities of Practice
The CoP is not just an ordinary circle of friends or community group within the company that anyone can join for as long as the admins allowed them to be part of. Identifying what is the CoP based on Etienne Wenger, a theorist, helps you to prevent it from becoming a normal group on social media platforms.
Therefore, if you are planning to have a community of practices, you should know the components are as follows:
This can be identified as the ‘titles’ of the communities of practice within your company.
For example, group A shared an interest in marketing, their domain can be called as “marketers”.
While group B shared the same interest in optimizing website then, their domain should be called “SEO”. Members of communities of practice are all committed to their designated domain to improve their craft, collaborate with other employees, and strategize in solving relevant hurdles within a company.
A part of CoP’s pillars that entails the activities happening within their domain. A part of CoPs pillar where members interact and learn from each other on how they can improve themselves and tackle discoveries in their chosen domains.
For example, the communities of practice can conduct a question and answer forum to determine the main problems of the consumers than making a list of which product or service you currently offer needs improvement.
In this case, the communities of practice members will be aware of the impacts of your product to the consumer, as well as solving issues on consumers’ end.
The last part of CoPs’ pillars but the most important one. This is where the member’s exchange tools that can help the domain in strategizing that can strengthen the domain’s motives as well as handling identical problems altogether.
For example, the members of the communities of practice in this stage are all committed to strategizing and defining which of your consumer locations needs more advertising to increase sales revenue. As one of the pillars of communities of practice, this part can also mean the members should identify which marketing tools are best to use.
On this stage, members of the community can also brainstorm new product with a new perspective, targeting a new set of audiences that still incorporates the company’s objective.
The communities of practice are not only limited to solving problems, meeting the company’s objective and preventing malicious actions from your competitors.
CoPs can also help you to:
- Re-used assets that can lessen your expenses.
- Discussing developments
- Identifying and resolving gaps within the company.
The risks of implementing communities of practice
CoPs are not immune to risks and disadvantages. There will always be dilemmas that you may encounter when implementing the communities of practice, it is better to get ready and plan solutions.
The communities of practice have been and always been available for decades now, but only a few companies take the leap of faith and take risks of implementing it. In this case, your employees might need to adjust since this is not a common policy at their previous companies. If you are planning to implement the communities of practice to your company, give them enough time to adjust and get acquainted with the idea.
Few companies were able to take risks and succeed. The success of those few companies that implemented the communities of practice don’t guarantee the same level of success for your company. It all boils down on how you will nurture the members of your company.
Implementing CoP comes with action from your end. It does not mean that if you already formed communities of practice, you no longer need to exert effort and provide additional incentives.
You may find it easy to build the communities of practice in your company since you have employees’ trust and loyalty on you. But, sustaining these communities can be challenging.
Companies with Communities of Practice
- Hewlett-Packard (HP)
The community of practice at Hewlett-Packard holds monthly teleconferences that aim to minimize downtime for customers, particularly in computer. Then, they had detected several problems, they were able to address and resolve the issue. As a result, they have come up with a consistent pricing scheme for the HP sales team.
- World Bank
With over 130 office locations worldwide and 189 member countries, World Bank is indeed one of the successful businesses of our generation today. One of their secrets is embracing the advantages along with the risks of putting up communities of practice in their company.
- American Management System or AMS
It has been reported that the AMS went through an intense growth decline. The chairman of the company personally invited some of the employees with strong leadership qualities to manage the development of communities of practice is problematic and strategic areas of the company.
The difference in Communities of Practices
A community of practice in an organization is composed of people with commitment, passion, and shared expertise that keep them together. An organization’s communities of practice will last for as long as the employees are still interested to interact and learn from each other.
They will be able to maintain the group and keep their eyes on their shared vision. The regular project teams get dissolved once they deliver a specific set of outputs. This does not apply to a community of practice.
Furthermore, a community of practice is different from an informal network. Usually, your informal networks have shallow interest in what you do as a professional.
Having your employees grouped based on their expertise and job roles are two of the best ways of demonstrating communities of practice.
Though they may not have a specific day within the week to comply in answering questions and interacting with each other, communities of practice members feature a free-flowing and of course creative approaches to problems.
In addition to that, a community of practice members will motivate each other in developing their capabilities on how they would be essential to a company or an organization during a brainstorming session.
Effective methods to nurture the CoPs
Etienne Wenger has stated that managers cannot manipulate the communities of practice. However, the following actions should be done to nurture the communities of practice:
- You should provide the infrastructures needed by the communities to be able to meet their objectives and be productive. These “infrastructures” may come as information, supplies, and allotted time for discussion/interaction and so forth.
- Keeping things simple and informal since all members of the communities of practice have their professional obligations to the company and providing them just minimal responsibility is highly recommended. Do not force them to overwork and let their creativity and ideas flow in their way. Have the decency to give them the privilege of expressing their thoughts. Requiring the communities of practice members to attend several meeting in just one day makes them feel exhausted and unproductive.
- Appreciating and identifying the efforts of the members of the communities of practice will motivate them. Remember the first reason why you gathered them all and allowed them to be part of the communities of practice. A simple gift certificate from a related event on their domain or allow them to have at least one free day to discuss and execute their ideas makes them more valued in the company.
Measuring the Value and Contribution of Communities of Practices
“The idea at that meeting helped me persuade the customer to continue to buy our service. Thanks to advice from the community, I got done in two days what normally takes me two weeks. I took a risk because I was confident I had the backing of my community and it paid off.” Mr James Wolfensohn, World Bank President.
Based on the statement of the World Bank’s President, the best method of measuring the value as well as the contributions of communities of practice is to listen.
Listening and thorough understanding of what the communities of practice have prepared and planned systems will eventually save you and keep on making your company a better one.
Learning organizations have structures that facilitate learning such as boundary, crossing, and openness. I can help your organization to establish these practice in a very simple and “natural” way.