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Cultivating a Community of Practice for Organizational Success

Cultivating a Community of Practice

The resurgence of new mentoring strategies continues to spark interest in this age old practice. While many continue to ask if mentoring is worth the effort, others are striving to include techniques and strategies to make mentoring a more beneficial tool for employee growth. When seeking methods to argue the morality of adopting innovative practices, we come across the concept of developing communities of practice (CoP). CoPs are incredibly important within an organization; they develop, capture, and transfer best practices on specific topics by stimulating the active sharing of knowledge. Many now find that CoPs emerge as an effective way to handle unstructured problems and to share knowledge outside of the traditional structural boundaries in mentoring engagement.
In the early 1990’s, educational theorist Etienne Wenger and Jean Lave a social anthropologist, developed the concept and theory of Communities of Practice (CoP’s), though the original practice has existed for as long as people have exchanged stories and shown each other how to do things better. They suggested three dimensions in communicating among community members which can be seen in organizations. They stressed that members of the community should engage in interactions with each other and establish norms and relationships based on mutual engagements. Wenger and Lave also thought they should be bound together by a sense of joint enterprise and members should produce a shared repertoire of communal resources over time to forge the practice to flourish.

Why are Communities of Practice Important?

Since that time, CoP’s have emerged as a key domain in the realm of knowledge creation for organizational leadership. This continues to be highlighted as knowledge literature has become the key source of competitive advantage for organizations. As a knowledge management strategy, CoP’s provide an effective mechanism for accessing and integrating new networks. However, they may not do so quickly enough to stay abreast of competitive changes. CoP’s act as a forum for professionals to share a passion, interact regularly and learn how to do things better to provide a social context in work.

A Key for Building Organizational Leadership

A growing number of people and organizations in various business sectors are now focusing on communities of practice as a key to improving performance. Communities can be nurtured by creating the conditions for them to thrive in an organization. Some of these conditions include; (1) helping people with a shared interest find and connect with each other; (2) securing management support for the time and attention it takes to participate and lead CoPs; (3) sharing information and experiences with the group, so that the members learn from each other, and having an opportunity to develop themselves personally and professionally.
Many believe that COP’s benefit organizations and individuals by helping build a common language, and models around specific topics. They also aide in the retention of knowledge when employees leave the organization, along with cross-fertilizing ideas that increase opportunities for innovation.
Some other examples of why communities of practice are important; is that they connect people who might not otherwise have the opportunity to interact. A CoP can stimulate learning by serving as a vehicle for authentic communication, mentoring, coaching, and self-reflection. At Coley & Associates, Inc. our mentoring solution allows employees in organizations to share best practices and connect with learning tools allowing the growth of a community. Members learn from each other and have an opportunity to develop themselves personally and professionally in mentoring relationships.

How to Use Communities of Practice to Support Mentoring

Through the introduction of mentoring programs and mentoring solutions, communities vary greatly by membership composition (e.g. very homogeneous or very diverse), and purpose (very closely-defined or broad and far-reaching). The fundamental ingredients for these communities include the domain knowledge, community, and a shared business purpose.
All Communities of Practice should have a compelling, clear business value proposition. It is also advantageous for them to have a dedicated skilled facilitator or leader to help fuel discussion. Appropriate technology mediums facilitate knowledge exchange, retrieval, and collaboration. In order to sustain the CoP in connection with your mentoring solution, a recognition plan for participants is a great asset to incorporate into the mentoring connection plans.
Finally, Communities of Practice are emerging in companies that thrive on knowledge; they are considered the new frontier. They may seem unfamiliar now, however, in five to ten years they will be as common to discussions as business units and teams that are a central part of company success today. It is important to remember to give your CoP’s something to do along the lines of goal setting and strategy design. Ultimately, community members will promote the shared knowledge, learn from each other, and pass along the acquired expertise to the next generation. Communities of practice are becoming the new norm, what has worked for your organization?

By Janet Williams

As Director of Human Capital and Performance Consulting for Coley & Associates, Dr. Janet E. Williams provides Government clients and commercial companies insight on how to leverage resources and maximize services for improvements to company operations. She specializes in mentoring, progressive management process improvements, accountability and control, revenue enhancements, and other organizational change methods. For almost 20 years, Dr. Williams worked in government and head an Emerging Leaders Program for mentoring youth. Janet holds a bachelor’s degree in Accounting from Hampton University a MBA from Troy State University, and her doctorate in Public Policy and Leadership from Walden University.

7 replies on “Cultivating a Community of Practice for Organizational Success”

I feel that communities of practices and mentoring goes hand and hand. Especially when bringing in new people into the company. It would give the new employees a sense of what to expect from where they work. Communities of practice will be the future of every successful business

Ms. Rochester, you appear to have grasped the concept of communities of practice very well. I also agree that it would be helpful for new employee orientations. It is a wonderful feeling to have a support system and be around individuals with like purposes and goals. Continue to follow our post, but more importantly, as you read these relevant ideas and viewpoints pass them along to your colleagues and your leadership team. Again, thank you for taking the time to reply to our blog!

I thinks COPs creates cohesion within the community in reference to empowerment and employment opportunities. The ability to share ideas and strategies locally and nationwide can only be a more profound way to mentor and network. I do believe this idea can expand globally.

Thank you so much for taking the time to review our post, I find that government agencies tend to be slightly staggered with their approaches to new teaching techniques. As a result, I recommend highly that you use this as an opportunity to bring innovative ideas to the table in your organization. Having worked in local government for some time, I also agree with you that this concept would be beneficial in that environment. I remember clearly, the groupings referred to as taskforces and vision groups, which were closely aligned to this definition in local government. However I believe the concept of COP’s takes the concept of employee opportunities to a more inclusive level, whereas taskforces and vision groups were developed by appointment only. Continue to embrace and share with your organization the concept of COP’s it may surprise you that they are ready to take on this concept.

CoP’s seemed to be an excellent solution for helping to address some of the gaps in a workforce. In this day in age a company can have a staff that ranges from those with formal education to only years of on the job experience or employees ranging in age from 20’s to 70’s. The idea of bringing them together to work from the place of a common interest is a great way to share knowledge, increase cohesiveness of the team.

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