Organisations may consider sponsoring a community of practice (CoP) for various reasons: a CoP may serve as a think-tank and help mitigate innovation risk; it may help create an organisational culture of purpose and engagement; and it may serve as a tacit knowledge repository. When thinking about sponsoring a CoP, however, we should keep in mind that a CoP is not a smart tool that we can use to solve our problems, but rather a multi-dimensional, communicative framework which is based on trust and mutual respect and within which continuous and efficient peer learning can take place, which may eventually lead to innovation.
What makes a CoP effective?
An effective CoP must always be legitimised by its members who commit themselves to exploring new opportunities, sharing ideas and experiences - with the aim to co-create better strategies, processes, or products. From what I have seen, the most effective CoP are independent of (organisational) politics. This means we may anticipate but definitely cannot measure or control their concrete output or outcome.
Accordingly, good CoP facilitators must be able to pick up CoP members where they are - in terms of priorities and language. Members need to know what's in it for them. What is more, good facilitators must see to it that a CoP does not get stuck in discussions. Even if talk and awareness-building can be of vital importance to the success of a CoP, a vibrant CoP will always only thrive on the actions performed by its members. As a matter of fact, we can only bring about change and create impact by "doing".
And what does all of this mean?
It means that starting a CoP is a bit like entering a multi-dimensional, somewhat ambivalent space where we explore opportunities and look for new solutions together. Participating in a CoP means trial and error and definitely takes courage, commitment and engagement. CoP means co-creating a sense of purpose. It means getting ourselves unstuck - by doing!