Organizations readily acknowledge that people are their greatest asset, but all too seldom understand this truism in terms of the communities in which people are engaged and through which they develop their own and each other’s capabilities as well as the organization’s capabilities to deliver value to clients.
A community of practice (CoP) is a group of people with a common passion for something they do. A CoP involves a domain (joint enterprise), community (mutual engagement), and practice (shared repertoire).
- A CoP focuses on a domain, the subject of the CoP. A CoP has an identity where membership implies a commitment to the domain and a shared competence that distinguishes members from others.
- A CoP involves community members who share experiences and learn from one another. A CoP has a sense of aliveness where members engage in activities & discussions and support each other.
- A CoP involves members who are practitioners, practicing what they learn while continuing to expand their learning based-in practice. A CoP develops a shared repertoire of resources (experiences and a body of knowledge) that improves individual and organizational performance.
An effective organization is composed of a constellation of interconnected CoPs where CoPs contribute value to each individual’s professional growth, the organization’s capabilities, and ultimately the organization’s customers/clients.
CoPs span organizational structures, both within organizational units and across organizational units. A CoP is not an organizational unit; the boundaries of a CoP are flexible while organizational units define an organization’s structure. A CoP is not a team; the focus of a CoP is on knowledge rooted-in practice & knowledge applied in practice while a team’s focus is on tasks for a project. A CoP is not a network; the focus of a CoP is on a subject while a network’s focus is on relationships. CoPs enable practitioners to have collective responsibility and ownership in contributing to their individual and the organization’s performance.
CoPs form around real business problems, are self-defined & self-managed, and are logistically supported and sponsored by the organization. A CoP is launched with a core group (sometimes called a “nucleus”) that organizes an initial series of value-adding activities. Ultimately, a CoP coordinator helps shepherd the community to foster a win-win for each individual, the community, and the organization.
See Etienne Wenger for more…