By Brandon Williams, Consultant, The Educe Group
If you build it, will they really come? Drive the adoption of enterprise-wide social learning technology by creating thriving online communities of practice.
What Is a Community of Practice?
By definition, a community of practice (CoP) is a group of individuals with a common area of responsibility, or similar interests, who are bound together by a collective desire to grow by sharing ideas and best practices. A CoP is different from a project team, department, or discussion group within an company in that it’s created for the continuous pursuit of an evolving topic rather than a single, time-bound occurrence (i.e., members represent a range of expertise and change roles as specific needs arise). Furthermore, the CoP only will exist as long as each constituent part feels there’s something to be gained from continual interaction.
Think back to the first week on the job (if you’re currently self-employed, perhaps you can think to a prior position with a larger organizations). Would you say you got more out of your compliance training, onboarding presentation, and benefits review, or would you say interaction with coworkers was more useful? For many, there is a stark contrast between taking a training course and interacting with people around them who have been through similar experiences; by asking questions about coworkers’ shared experiences or the company’s systems and processes, new employees are able to more quickly assimilate into the company’s infrastructure and begin making useful contributions. Formal training will always have its place, but it simply can’t meet the needs of a lean workforce that requires faster feedback to operate as efficiently as possible.
Where Are We?
While learning professionals have discussed the power of informal learning for years, too few organizations have been able to translate this oft-occurring, widespread developmental phenomenon to an online training experience that can be shared and engaged by the entire enterprise. Furthermore, collaborative technology has become second nature to many, and subject matter experts (SMEs) from all walks of life are increasingly more available to others in similar roles and occupations. Harnessing the power of the discussions these individuals already are having will be a key consideration for all human capital management professionals.
Taking Communities of Practice Online
Two key characteristics of online CoPs set them apart from all other traditional methods of group collaboration. Unlike apprenticeships, brown bag lunches, or other informal methods of collaboration where information can be lost unless individuals take it upon themselves to spread knowledge, online exchanges allow you to capture, tag, and categorize information to easily search for later use. Secondly, this information can be accessed from anywhere around the world at any time.
Any group within an organization can interact with the rest of the organization by creating and sharing a document, establishing a workspace, posting on a discussion board, or writing and promoting a blog, but what are the qualities of successful online CoPs? Generally speaking, participants must find it valuable, regardless of the technology. Specifically, a successful online CoP will
Here are a few points to consider when planning the implementation and rollout of your system (whatever it may be).
Brandon Williams is a consultant for The Educe Group, a consulting services firm that implements and manages the technologies that enable an organization’s people to learn, collaborate, achieve, and be rewarded in the workplace. Founded in 2003 and headquartered in Bethesda, MD, with consultants across the U.S., The Educe Group provides consulting services related to technology strategy, vendor selection, software implementation, managed solutions, and Web-based content development. For more information, visit http://www.educegroup.com.