Role of Communities Of Practice in knowledge creation

Every organisation is concentrating on Knowledge management. Knowledge is an asset for an organisation. Knowledge creation and knowledge transfer occurs between employees in the organisation. Knowledge is usually recognised as a most important organizational resource. “Knowledge arises in the collaborative practices of organizational members, as they resolve the challenges confronted in dealing with their mixed social and technical environments” (Heaton and Taylor, 2002:210).This essay deals with the communities of practice. The first part of the essay talks about the role of Communities of Practice (CoP) in knowledge creation and knowledge transfer in the organisation. The second part of the essay talks about the role of manager in developing the CoP In particular the analysis is done based on one organisation. The managers would represent the CoP. Later in the essay, qualities for successful manager are also discussed. Many organisations are currently strengthening their Knowledge Management (KM) activities, and in this regard, there is considerable interest in CoP.

Research Setting

I was working with Infosys technologies Limited, Multinational Company in India providing software services and consultants. It was started in 1981 by Mr. N R Narayan murthy with seven others with US$250. Currently it is a global leader in software services and technology consulting of revenues over US$4 billion. Each business unit in the company had various Communities of Practice. Each employee is given an importance and encouraged in participating in CoP. Each CoP had a manager appointed by the members of the community.

Literature Review

Part 1: Role of Communities of practice in Knowledge transfer and Knowledge creation process in an Organisation

A COP is a set of people who “share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis” (Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder, 2002:4). The CoPs are unlike from teams since they are self-organising systems whose lifetime is decided by individuals depending on the built-in value that membership results as described as shown in Figure 1. These communities are not controlled only based on time and space but also affect the organizational limits (Wenger 1998). They exist in any firm because membership is mainly due to participation, not the official status of the firm.

Since the CoP are said to be social containers of the competencies of the social learning system, they are called as the building blocks. They are vital in case of knowledge sharing process consists of communicating knowledge in various forms and recognising the value of the achieved knowledge in another situation.

Figure 1: Comparison of characteristics of networks in Organisation

Source: – Wenger (2000)

CoPs have been identified as effective place for the creation and sharing of knowledge (Lave & Wenger 1991). CoPs enhance in sharing and transferring tacit knowledge by individuals and groups and also provide organizations with innovation as community members improve their practice through the continuous creation of knowledge (Wenger, 1998). Most of the knowledge in firms is tacit which is hard to articulate.”Knowledge management literature portrays CoP are being the vehicles for knowledge sharing and knowledge creation” (Hislop, 2009:180). The purpose of CoP is to create expand and exchange knowledge and to develop individual capabilities. Participants are keen to learn together, is valuable, there must be enough time to participate and interact.

As per Wenger (1998), CoPs define competence by combining three elements that includes initially members are bonded together by their cooperative understanding of community and its terms as they are accountable for each action taken in the community and also Members need to understand the community and contribute to make it competitive and furthermore, members develop and enhance their community all the way through mutual commitment. Author also adds that establishing norms and mutual relationships that would reflect the interactions mentioned does the interaction and would require trust and complete involvement to the community this would result in competing. Finally, CoP developed a shared repertoire of communal resources such as language, routines, sensibilities, artefacts, tools, stories, styles, etc. (wenger, 1998). One of the main reasons to be competent is to gain an access to collection and make the most use of it.

CoP has become a strategic approach for development of learning and transferring knowledge. An analysis of knowledge transfer across various communities also requires the understanding of happenings outside the communities apart from conceptualisation. CoPs involves in negotiation in competence by participating directly. The growth includes the mutual engagement between members. Thus they consistently remain as critical social units of learning and knowledge in the interrelated CoPs. However most successful Cop would set their objectives that are inline with the corporate strategy where management supports by funding as well as nurturing, to achieve this management tend to take indirect control to make sure that the risk free environment is not breached(Wenger and synder,2000) cited in (Probust and borizillo,2008)

Successful COPs, in contrast, set their own objectives by conforming to corporate strategy, and in return are supported by top management in the form of funding and nurturing. Top management therefore exerts indirect control to ensure that the risk-free environment in COPs is not breached and to maintain the self-developing character of COPs (Wenger and Snyder, 2000).

CoPs are not static entities. They evolve over time as new members join and others leave. Through conversation we articulate “hunches, insights, misconceptions, and the like, to dissect and augment … understanding” (Brown & Duguid 1991: 45). Knowledge can be shared in many ways. One of the ways would be describing the situation in the form of story results in developing a technique to solve the particular problem. In some cases the solution could not be found directly, so sharing the knowledge with outside the community members who might be aware of the solution and willing to share it with the community. This process can be done using online communities. As stated by Sharratt and Usaro (2000), within the context of online communities, transfer of knowledge is defined in various instances where an individual provides a response to the problem that is known to them which is termed as sharing of knowledge.

Organisation structure

CoPs are not part of formal organisation structure. Every organisation has different structure. For instance centralised, bureaucratic management style the knowledge creation is suppressed. Therefore the creativity and innovation of new ideas are restricted. Where as in case of decentralised structure there is scope for knowledge sharing and more focus on tacit knowledge. However incase of CoP the knowledge sharing has no restrictions due to the informal structure. “In order to be successful in knowledge transfer … firms must be organised to be highly flexible and responsive” (Chung cited in Sharratt and Usaro, 2000:190).

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Innovation and Generate new ideas

CoP provide opportunity to participate its members in discussions and provide with the necessary information about the various interests. This would allow and encourage the members to come up with new ideas in the field of their interest which would be a part of organisation success. The new innovative ideas are generated using CoP. This was observed in my last organisation. There was a panel formed for innovation. Members are supposed to mention their new ideas. The panel of top management review the ideas and would implement the ideas to improve the organisation performance. Thus, CoP is one of the key factors for new idea generation and knowledge creation.

Technical Infrastructure

In most of the cases, the knowledge transfer happens through one to one discussions which are effective and powerful. However, it is time consuming and utilizes more resources. So As per (Chung cited in Sharratt and Usaro, 2000) Information Technology accommodates collective efforts and promote the knowledge sharing process. The greater use of online systems such as discussion forums emails the better the knowledge sharing process. This reduces the time and dependent factors. So Organisations need to develop and encourage CoP by providing the necessary infrastructure to suit the needs which results CoP in effective Knowledge sharing.

Participation and Identity

Participation is considered to be the basic assumption and requirement for effective CoP. As wenger suggested, participarion is not only to local events of engagement with some people in particular activities, but it’s about the full active participation in the social communities and involving in the construction of identities in context to these communities (Wenger, 1998). So participation is not only the action but it also involves the connection. In addition to this Alvesson and Willmott(2002) cited in Handley et.al., 2006 provides an instance where focus is on the main processes of identity : identity regulation and identity work.

Alvesson and Willmott (2002) for example, emphasize two main processes of identity construction: identity-regulation and identity-work. The first process refers to regulation originating from or mediated through the organization (e.g. recruit- ment, induction and promotion policies) as well as employees’ individual responses such as enactment and/or resistance. The second process of ‘identity-work’ refers to employees’ continuous efforts to form, repair, maintain or revise their perceptions of self. This identity-work involves a negotiation between the organization’s efforts at identity-regulation (which the employee may or may not internalize) and the employees’ sense of self derived from current work as well as other (work and non-work) identities. Through these processes, individuals come to embrace or reject opportunities to participate more fully in their community of practice, depending on the ‘fit’ or resonance of those opportunities with their current senses of self.

Career advancements

Knowledge sharing in CoP would be successful if the employees participate. Employees should be benefited professionally so that they would be high level of involvement. Organisations should support to grow their career in all aspects. This would get motivated the members and would perform better for a successful knowledge transfer. One more interesting thing that is noted from the study of CoP is that there is a relation between moral compulsion for the groups and different standards for knowledge transfer (Ardichvili et al cited in Sharratt and Usaro, 2000). The most valuable enticement for motivation in terms of knowledge transfer is ultimately for the progress in the career and also related to the intrinsic motivators of recognition and reputation (Hall cited in Sharratt and Usaro, 2000). Addition to this the employees would feel the threat for job security by knowledge sharing that would add value to organisation (Davenport and Klahr cited in Sharratt and Usaro, 2000). However, this would result as a de motivation factor. Finally to motivate members there is a mandatory relation that should exists for the knowledge transfer and the career progress which would results in higher involvement in knowledge sharing in CoP.

Reuse of tangible knowledge assets

CoP would help members to share explicit knowledge while various communities repository based systems. This is used to create a shared place that allows members to find the information. This ensures the repository has served according to the community needs.Initially members need to place the authentic and valuable content in the repository. This is ensured by assigning the moderators for the repository. All the documents need to be verified before adding to the repository. Moderator needs to identify the relevant data that would make it easy for the members to search and locate the documents.

Most of the communities conduct face to face meetings with all its members to know each other and to build trust and mutual obligation. This would encourage contribution among individuals and also highlights the value of reuse of intellectual capital.

In one of the organisation, the community organised regular seminars and workshops each year that help to socialise and develop community. This gave opportunity to members to share knowledge mainly through chat rooms in a virtual context. CoP would have various domain experts. Regular interaction with them would create new knowledge. It had a practice to archive the discussions topic by topic that was held from the start. This made possible to all the members to access the information any time. During the knowledge crisis situation, where the members leave the Community this archival practice would benefit them.

Analysis

Part2: Role of Manager in Facilitation in Communities of Practice

Every Cop have a formal manager where the role is to facilitate and enable CoP members to reach agreement on relevant problems or issues (Gongla and Rizzuto, 2001). Handley et al., (2006) suggest that important challenges to a CoP manager include the facilitation of interaction, interpretation of contributions, and the management of the ongoing process of sense making, storytelling and representation that lie at the heart of the CoP process.

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For instance considering the CoP in my previous organisation, we had a CoP technology wise like Java, Database and so on. Each member has to join by sending a mail to CoP Manager. Then the manager interviews and approves the request and adds the name in the distribution list. So the members share the problems related to that particular technology by sending mails. The members are present all over the world.

In case of communities of Practice the success or failure depends on the CoP Manager. For communities of practice to be successful over time the managers should identify potential communities of practice that will enhance the company’s strategic capabilities (Wenger and Snyder, 2000).Every organization has skilled workers having passion to improve the organization performance by contributing. There exists an Informal network of people who are highly passionate in developing organization’s core competencies. The manager’s task is to identify such groups and form them together as CoP. In my observation, our manager of CoP in my last organization has to interview new members. The members would have a look into challenges and various problems across other people in organization. The interview was conducted for data collection and also developing the community. Once the CoP is developed the manager informs and calls for a meeting with all the members together and then discusses the activities to be performed by the individuals and group activities. One of the main tasks in CoP is defying the community’s domain. This is done because if the members are not sown interest and does not commit to work in the community.

Aditionally Managers need to provide the infrastructure that will support such communities and enable them to apply their expertise effectively (Wenger and Snyder, 2000). For CoP’s to achieve their fill potential they need to have full support from management and integrate into business. Top management of an organization needs to be ready to spend time and money in order to develop and maintain CoP to reach its potential. For instance my manager approved the IT systems required in case of requirement in solving a particular organization problem. This improves the cohesiveness in the team and members get full motivation to participate and contribute to success of CoP.

Addition to that Manager needs to measure the value of organization’s CoP. As Wenger (2000) stated that “The best way for a senior executive to assess the value of a community of practice is by listening to members’ stories in a systematic way”. The manager will perform both management and leadership activities. Managers interview the members to collect these stories. Since this does not contain any financial compensation to the members, it is very important for manager to motivate the members to contribute in CoP. The members need to be given recognition for the work achieved.

The idea of having a manager is to coordinate and facilitate the work of CoP. Moreover, the manager is looking for spontaneity and brings together the fragmented practice into a coherent one. The manager can support the development of the CoP and will have ultimate authority and responsibility for the outputs of the CoP and also will perform both action and enabling functions (Brown and Duguid cited in Garavan et al., 2007). These include bringing drive, vision and enthusiasm to the CoPtask, the distribution of tasks to CoP members and the provision of advice and facilitation.(Garavan et al.,2007)

Focus on intrinsic motivation

One of the success factors for CoP is the motivation. It plays an important role. The manager needs to understand the member’s motivation factors and also has to trust and know about the members. They need to find out the different ways to motivate the members. However there would be many challenges to motivate. So manager needs to overcome these challenges. I have personally observed that my manager had taken full efforts in motivating the members. He had provided full support in case of tough times. If the task is not completed in a specific time, then he used to contribute by putting extra effort. In one of the case member would participate in the sub groups then the manager need to allow so that the particular issue is resolved. This required significant knowledge concerning the talents and knowledge of CoP members. They encourage alignments of changing practices between communities, thereby assisting the transfer of knowledge across the organization (Brown and Duguid, cited in Garavan et al., 2007).

Trust and Collaboration

These two terms are critical dimensions for effective CoPs. However, it is difficult to develop at the initial stage. Once it is achieved this would have a major change in the CoP.It is also required for the knowledge transfer. Therefore the management style of the CoP manager has the potential to undermine the basis on which trust is built. For instance, CoP would likely flourish where conditions are created in which the manager provides its members a high degree of autonomy (Coopey cited in Garavan et al., 2007). The task of the CoP manager is to create conditions where a sense of joint enterprise, mutual engagement and a shared repertoire of actions are possible (Wenger, 1998). Intentionally created CoPs can be described as a “playful community”, characterised by a strong work ethic around collective knowledge sharing, mutual challenging and ongoing learning. The CoP manager therefore needs to focus on enabling this collaborative learning to occur.

Balancing constraints and freedoms.

Most challenging part of the manager would be to tackle the constraints. An effective manager needs to demonstrate the skills in understanding the constraints and possible changing dynamics. The manager needs to make sure that the members stick to the deadlines and also make effective interaction between them to make sure when to exert pressure and also the freedom. This creates balancing act to challenged managers. However it might raise some conflicts, disagreements, lack of progress and on some occasions, movement towards a solution(Garavan et al., 2007). My manager used to make sure regarding the deadlines of the tasks. He would make members to put extra effort to complete the task on time and at some times he would arrange for some guest speakers in free time. So that it the time is fully utilizes and also would enhance the member’s knowledge. Thus CoP in our organization was most effective.

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Negotiating Meaning

As per Wenger (1998), meaning is negotiated. Once the shared meaning is build then the collaboration is occurred. CoP members should be encouraged by the manager to share their thinking as they work together. Lave and Wenger (1991) suggest that a manager’s role is secondary to the role of the community as a whole increasing learning opportunities for co-participation.

CoP would gain access to many shared communities and would gain knowledge and also to engage in the real world tasks. The effective way in community is involved in integrating the collective product in member’s tasks. When these various elements are in place they allow for the creation of a social structure within the CoP this enables the sharing of meaning. (Garavan et al., 2007). However, CoPs may use restrictive codes which lack flexibility and elaborate codes which would enable the CoP to be more open to learning and knowledge creation (Mutch cited in Garava et al., 2007). My manager would encourage members by gaining the access to the shared communities across the globe. This improved the performance of the community and became more effective.

Setting Goals and Challenges for individuals.

Every CoP has particular goals and objectives. To achieve the goals the members need to work on those. The manager needs to set goals. He/She sets the priorities in the tasks and this could create competitiveness among the members and build motivation. The members need to stick to the deadlines. In my personal observation, manager used to set target to each individual in the community. This had created competitiveness among the members and the most effective member is to be awarded. One of my CoP managers had communicated that he had to reframe the task taking into account the world views and perspectives of the members. One CoP manager did not successfully get all members on board and the manager did not do enough to get to know the members and understand their preferred styles and priorities.

Managing the power dynamics

According to Garavan et al (2007) power is considered as most important aspect in CoP creation and also in managing them. Manager need to influence the members since it is intentionally created and members would be from various background and experience. Managers would need to concentrate on issues of power such as setting the goals, negotiating the rules and encourage the community to fully utilize the resources and knowledge. My manager used to manage the conflicts occurred during the meetings which would include the team and also the top management. Also resolves the issues among the members and would make the team to work normal after resolving the issues.

The manager is a crux of the CoP. He must be a facilitator which would require the complete understanding of the community and its process.

Conclusion

Cops are most important in the knowledge transfer and creation process in the organisation. As mentioned earlier there exist many factors for successful CoP in Knowledge transfer process. Sponsor who is present between the management and CoP members is one of the main key roles in CoP. He/She makes sure the objectives of the CoP are aligning with the organisation strategy.

Successful COPs

Successful COPs are found in an organizational context in which experts enjoy total freedom with regard to network collaboration across their respective units. In such a context, top management must strongly encourage intra organizational collaboration, and COP interaction must take place at a pace and rhythm chosen by its members. (Probst AND Borzillo, 2008).Managers have to be effective resource. They are the face of CoP. This essay focused on role of Managers. The key skills essential for the manager are strong interpersonal, team building, conflict management and consensus seeking. As sense maker CoP managers must have a detailed understanding of the cultural and political context of the CoP, the expectations of key stakeholders and the task requirements. However CoP also has some limitations. It can be successful only in the nations that have strong social community culture compared to the nations having weak community spirit (Roberts, 2006).One of the main challenge is the time and constraint. The members must have the time to participate in activities to make it effective. However if the manager is managing the members and provide them the necessary requirements, then the CoP can be most effective. This study also has some limitations, It is restricted to one particular organisation and a particular industry. The view of CoP is from the software industry. There is further scope for the research to understand the CoP in all sectors.

Biblography

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Gongla, P. and Rizzuto, C.R. (2001), ‘Evolving communities of practice: IBM Global Services experience’ IBM Systems Journal 40(4):842-62

Handley, K., Sturdy, A., Fincham, R., and Clark, T. (2006) ‘Within and beyond communities of practice: making sense of learning through participation, identity and practice’, Journal of Management Studies, 43(3): 641-53.

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Probst, G., & Borzillo, S. (2008) ‘Why communities of practice succeed and why they fail’ European Management Journal, 26(5), 335-347.

Roberts, J. (2006) ‘Limits to communities of practice’, Journal of Management Studies, 43(3): 623-63.

Sharratt, M. and Usoro, A. (2003) ‘Understanding knowledge-sharing in online communities of practice’ Electronic Journal on Knowledge Management 1(2):187-196

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Wenger, E. McDermott, R., and Snyder, W. (2002) Cultivating communities of practice: a guide to managing knowledge Boston:Harvard Business School Press

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