By Alexandra Harocopos
There is never one correct method to follow in prescribing training and/or performance interventions. A variety of solutions can be implemented based on knowledge sharing and a company’s organizational structure. The best solution is figuring out what works well for your project and your organization. This article will examine how Organizational Design (OD) contributes to performance. It will focus specifically on the influence of knowledge sharing through Communities of Practice (CoPs).
What Is a CoP?
A Community of Practice (CoP) is an informal gathering of individuals who are bound together by common interests and shared expertise for a joint enterprise or venture (Gongla & Rizzuto 2001, p.842). CoPs are available to all employees. The main purpose of a CoP is to “develop members’ capabilities; to build and exchange knowledge” (Wenger & Synder, 2000, p. 139). Ideally, common interests and goals, usually related to the company, bring people together. For example, a CoP could develop from a group of five people who meet weekly for lunch. During their lunch hour, they discuss best practices to improve protocols and procedures, providing tips and shortcuts for dealing with certain types of content, etc. The goal is to improve the organizational structure and processes through increased levels of efficiency, which yields performance.
How Is Knowledge Created Within a CoP?
Since common goals bring these people together, how do they create the knowledge for these interests? It’s simple: Some type of interaction must occur. Discussions, questions, e-mails, telephone calls, directories, repositories, etc., all are classified as types of interaction within a CoP. Members could select other members they deem interested in the content and expertise to innovate new concepts and ideas. The CoP is held together by “passion, commitment, and identification with the group’s expertise” (Wenger & Snyder, 2000, p. 142). It does not matter whether you join based on incentives or pure interest; it just has to be enough of an interest so you will contribute.
People from different departments come together informally to discuss different strategies to and improve methods in their company. CoPs can be informal gatherings of approximately three people in a small enterprise to 700 individuals in a multinational corporation. Whenever you get a group of people together to discuss their projects, you will get interesting conversations about what currently is working and what needs improvement. The good, the bad, and the ugly are all topics of interest to individuals with similar projects.
How Is Knowledge Exchanged Within a CoP?
Each CoP is different from the next. There is no prescription for the best method to use to develop a CoP for your organization. Each CoP has its own set of rules and practices. Some CoPs are online, so the best form of communicating in through the use of e-mail and instant messaging. In other cases, some CoPs meet bi-weekly via teleconference for two hours.
Content also drives the type of information exchange. For example, an organization that sells fitness products could communicate virtually using videos, demonstrations versus reading through a static document that gets passed around the e-mail list. Remember, time is a factor, as well. If your firm is multinational, try to schedule synchronous (everyone communicates at the same time) meetings that are feasible with the different time zones.
How Do CoPs Impact Organizational Design (OD) and Employee Performance?
Organizational design (OD) is “creating synchronicity between work production and the formal organization” (Russo & Harrison, 2004, p.3). Another definition put forth by Kates & Galbraith (2007) states that OD is the process of redefining an organization’s structure and roles in order to perform at a higher rate. OD can be linear and hierarchical, or it can be more horizontal and collaborative. Each design is unique to the firm, its goals, and its services.
Ostroff (2007) mentions that “multiple internal (employees) and external (stakeholders, clients, etc.) criteria are needed for a more comprehensive evaluation of organizations” (p.965). The organizational structure alone cannot fuel the organization to reach a goal of competitive advantage; it is up to the members of the CoP to react to the environment and the goals of the company. Creating this type of atmosphere is the most difficult part of developing a CoP to influence the institution’s OD. To develop this atmosphere in your firm, try to keep meetings on target and stick to the agenda. Include members from the executive board if possible and stakeholders, if any. They will provide good insight, and it will keep the CoP on track and successful.
How to Motivate the Members?
If your CoP is struggling to retain members, look to other areas for motivation. According to Bryan & Joyce (2007), the focus is generating capital from people rather than products. Members of CoPs feel noticed, accepted, supported to achieve in a safe environment. Changing the focus from a vertical organizational structure where executives hold the power to more of a horizontal and collaborative framework allows employees to connect with many people and provides flexibility of responsibility, empowering people to achieve their goals. Speak to managers, supervisors, directors, or anyone who will listen. Explain the focus of the CoP and explain the collaborative nature for knowledge sharing.
These recommendations usually are achieved over time and through trial and error. The best CoPs that yield the highest levels of employee performance are usually those that cater their discussions and interactions to the organization’s goals. If you want to develop your own CoP within your organization, first examine the OD of the enterprise. Brainstorm resources (people, job aids, procedures, user guides, etc.) that will contribute to the success of the project. Creating quick links and solutions to everyday problems should motivate others to participate and become regular active members of the group.
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Alexandra Harocopos is a recent graduate of the MA Educational Technology program at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec. She recently began working as an instructional designer at FlightSafety International. She is interested in organizational collaboration to improve efficiency and performance. To contact her, e-mail email@example.com.