Over at Anecdote, Mark Schenk shared a couple of days ago a terrific story about how management, at whatever the level, can be very harming to communities of practice if they would try to control them pretty much in the same way that teams, business units or organisations get controlled at the moment in most cases. This is something that I always get questions on from different people who feel that a team, or whatever other group or gathering, is the same as a community of practice, so whatever worked in other groups it may as well work with CoPs. And that is an assumption that is not very accurate, actually. If not check out Mark’s weblog post over at Management Can Kill a Community of Practice. That story clearly shows how CoPs are much better off and much more productive when left alone do their thing, which is basically sharing knowledge with one another, collaborating, building relationships, nurture them, making connections, building your own virtual networks, you name it. But never trying to manage them. That is probably the last thing you would want to do to them. It will not work, as Mark mentions.
So what can you do as a manager to help CoPs flourish within your own business? What is out there available to you to help them become as productive and significant as what you would have expected from the very beginning? To me, there are actually a couple of items that every manager should think about when trying to incorporate communities of practice into their businesses. To most of you out there they would sound like common sense, I am sure, but since I am getting asked more and more about it I thought I would put them together over here:
- Sponsorship: Indeed, this is something that every single community of practice, where it is in its infancy or a well formed one, would be very much in need of. Sponsorship not only from the perspective of helping the CoP to be self-sustainable being able to host different community events, having a tools suite for members to hang out and make use of to collaborate, establishing some common roles and responsibilities on a more or less permanent basis (That is, funded) but also from the perspective that sponsorship should translate in actively supporting the CoP for what they do. So not so much the why are you doing this and for what purpose but more how can I help to make it happen type of mentality.
- Leadership: The second item that I feel every manager should take into account whenever they would want to incorporate CoPs to their business is to show some true leadership. That is, stop wondering what the community will be up to over the next number of months and just focus on helping community members be more engaged with the overall efforts from the CoPs. And perhaps one of the most powerful examples is to have management leading by example: showing their leadership skills in such a way that they are part of the group, sharing their knowledge and expertise, collaborating with others, in short, being one of them. There is a great chance that every single CoP at some point in time may be in need of some leadership to shake things further a bit and it is at that point that those leadership skills should show up with the commitment to help out more than just terminate the effort. Again, leading by example being one of them.
In short, those are, to me, two key fundamental aspects that every single manager should take into account when wanting to boost their KM strategies with the incorporation of communities of practice so that instead of killing them they are able to keep them healthy, thriving, energetic and ready to take on any challenge they may decide to embark on themselves. So what do you think? What role do you feel should management have with Communities of Practice? Anything else you would want to add into the table?