Are communities of practice losing popularity as a KM mechanism?

Results from the Knoco 2020 global survey of Knowledge Management seem to show that the use of Communities of Practice is in decline.

Every three years since 2014, knoco has conducted a global survey of Knowledge Management. The latest survey is completed, and the final report written (go here to order a free copy).

One of the intriguing results from one of the graphs was that the usage of Communities of Practice seems to be in decline. So I did a bit more digging in the dataset, and came up with some more evidence.

Firstly, CoPs seem to have slipped down the list of priority approaches. 

The plot below is based on a question that asks respondents to prioritise various approaches within their KM strategy. This question has been asked in all three surveys, and the graph below shows the percentage of people who have chosen each of the options as their highest priority.

You can see that “connecting people through communities or networks” was the most popular “first choice” option in 2014 but has decreased significantly over the 6 years, and is now in 4th place.

Secondly, fewer organisations seem to be using CoPs as part of their KM Framework. 

Participants were asked whether they applied Best Practice, Lesson Learning, Communities of Practice, and (in the 2020 survey only)  Knowledge Retention. The percentages anwering Yes to this question for these four (largely tacit knowledge) approaches are shown below for the three surveys.

You can see that 62% used CoPs in 2014, 57% in 2017 and 55% in 2020. A steady decline.

Finally the organisations in 2020 which ARE using CoPs, are applying fewer of the components, and getting lower levels of satisfaction. 

This last one is a bit more subtle. Out of 13 potential component elements to a CoP framework, respondents in 2020 are using fewer (an average of 5.3 in 2020 compared to 5.4 in 2017 and 5.9 in 2020), and recording lower levels of satisfaction (3.04 out of 5 in 2020 compared to 3.16 and 3.2 in 2017 and 2014).  The prevalence of community sponsors, comunity business cases and community wikis is significantly less in the most recent survey.

These three pieces of data suggest that the use of Communities of Practice is in a slow decline.

But why?

I have to admit that I really do not know why this should be the case. Communities of Practice have been a mainstay of KM from the beginning; they are a powerful mechanism for peer to peer knowledge transfer, and they are the nearest thing to a KM silver bullet. So why are they not still top of the list as a KM priority?

Could it be that the survey datasets have changed – that the types of organisations answering the most recent survey are different? They are no smaller – if anything the average size is bigger in 2020 – but they are less multinational. One explanation might be that the 2020 respondent organisations contain a much higher proportion of government admin departments, and a smaller proportion of professional services firms. So maybe its not that CoPs are in decline, but that KM is being applied more in areas where CoPs are not a common mechanism. Maybe the government admin people need to discover the power of communities?

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

How to select a methodology for a CoP event

You want to plan a face to face event for your Community of Practice in order to transfer knowledge, but which event style do you select?

This is a discussion I have been having recently, and it struck me that this might be a useful blog post.
Now there may be many reasons for a CoP event; to launch the CoP, to celebrate CoP achievement, or to agree on the CoP charter, work plan, objectives and knowledge focus areas. For these purposes you may use many styles of meeting – Open Space, World Cafe, Knowledge Market etc. 

However if we assume that the purpose of the CoP event is to transfer knowledge among the members on one or more topics of interest, then the primary driver of the choice of event style or methodology is driven by two factors:

  • The number of CoP members who have knowledge and experience on the topic (“knowledge holders”, and
  • The number of CoP members who actively need to acquire the knowledge (“knowledge needers”). These are not just “interested parties” – these are people who will apply the knowledge they gain to improve the way they work. 
  • Please note that many people can be both holders and needers – they hold some knowledge but need to acquire more. 
The crossplot of these two factors above is used to suggest some methodologies or styles of knowledge transfer meetings, all of which should be based on positive dialogue between the knowledge holders and knowledge needers. Also note that if your CoP meeting addresses many topics, then you may need many styles of meeting at the same event – either one after the other, or in parallel in separate spaces. How do you find out the topics, and the number of holders and seekers within the CoP? You either conduct a survey, do some knowledge mapping, analyse the questions in the community forum, or hold a Knowledge Market
If you have a relatively small number of knowledge holders and a large number of knowledge needers, then you can hold a lessons learned discussion. This requires active moderation, and should be driven by questions from the knowledge needers. The discussion will create reference content for the CoP. Alternatively, a storytelling session may be appropriate. Or if the knowledge is very polarised, with one or two experts and everyone else in the CoP novices, then a training session may be the best approach, but try to drive the training by the questions of the needers as much as possible.
If you have one or two people with experience in the topic and a moderate number of knowledge needers, then in some cases a knowledge site visit may be appropriate. Here the CoP meeting is held at the premises of one of the knowledge holders (a factory, or a working office) who can demonstrate the knowledge in application.

If you have many knowledge holders and many knowledge needers, then a knowledge exchange may be appropriate. Here the CoP members discuss the topic, and all its subtopics, exchanging experience, answering questions, and discussing and co-creating best practice. The process is driven by the questions of the knowledge needers, and is suitable when there are one or more areas of practice applied by most of the CoP members, but where approaches differ. This process can develop good practice reference documents for future use by the CoP. 
If there are a moderate number of knowledge needers, then you can run a Peer Assist to enable knowledge transfer to the needers. Generally the process adds value to others as well.

If there is a topic where there are a few holders and a few needers, it may be best not to make this the focus of a CoP event, but to create a small action learning group, which will report back to the CoP through the online portal, or through short briefings.

Finally if there is a new topic which the CoP wants to explore, but currently has no experts or knowledge holders, then a more open process such as Open Space or World Cafe/Knowledge cafe.

However if transfer of knowledge is your aim, use one of the processes above to ensure effective dialogue between the knowledge holders and the knowledge needers. 

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

How to select a methodology for a CoP event

You want to plan a face to face event for your Community of Practice in order to transfer knowledge, but which event style do you select?

This is a discussion I have been having recently, and it struck me that this might be a useful blog post.
Now there may be many reasons for a CoP event; to launch the CoP, to celebrate CoP achievement, or to agree on the CoP charter, work plan, objectives and knowledge focus areas. For these purposes you may use many styles of meeting – Open Space, World Cafe, Knowledge Market etc. 

However if we assume that the purpose of the CoP event is to transfer knowledge among the members on one or more topics of interest, then the primary driver of the choice of event style or methodology is driven by two factors:

  • The number of CoP members who have knowledge and experience on the topic (“knowledge holders”, and
  • The number of CoP members who actively need to acquire the knowledge (“knowledge needers”). These are not just “interested parties” – these are people who will apply the knowledge they gain to improve the way they work. 
  • Please note that many people can be both holders and needers – they hold some knowledge but need to acquire more. 
The crossplot of these two factors above is used to suggest some methodologies or styles of knowledge transfer meetings, all of which should be based on positive dialogue between the knowledge holders and knowledge needers. Also note that if your CoP meeting addresses many topics, then you may need many styles of meeting at the same event – either one after the other, or in parallel in separate spaces. How do you find out the topics, and the number of holders and seekers within the CoP? You either conduct a survey, do some knowledge mapping, analyse the questions in the community forum, or hold a Knowledge Market
If you have a relatively small number of knowledge holders and a large number of knowledge needers, then you can hold a lessons learned discussion. This requires active moderation, and should be driven by questions from the knowledge needers. The discussion will create reference content for the CoP. Alternatively, a storytelling session may be appropriate. Or if the knowledge is very polarised, with one or two experts and everyone else in the CoP novices, then a training session may be the best approach, but try to drive the training by the questions of the needers as much as possible.
If you have one or two people with experience in the topic and a moderate number of knowledge needers, then in some cases a knowledge site visit may be appropriate. Here the CoP meeting is held at the premises of one of the knowledge holders (a factory, or a working office) who can demonstrate the knowledge in application.

If you have many knowledge holders and many knowledge needers, then a knowledge exchange may be appropriate. Here the CoP members discuss the topic, and all its subtopics, exchanging experience, answering questions, and discussing and co-creating best practice. The process is driven by the questions of the knowledge needers, and is suitable when there are one or more areas of practice applied by most of the CoP members, but where approaches differ. This process can develop good practice reference documents for future use by the CoP. 
If there are a moderate number of knowledge needers, then you can run a Peer Assist to enable knowledge transfer to the needers. Generally the process adds value to others as well.

If there is a topic where there are a few holders and a few needers, it may be best not to make this the focus of a CoP event, but to create a small action learning group, which will report back to the CoP through the online portal, or through short briefings.

Finally if there is a new topic which the CoP wants to explore, but currently has no experts or knowledge holders, then a more open process such as Open Space or World Cafe/Knowledge cafe.

However if transfer of knowledge is your aim, use one of the processes above to ensure effective dialogue between the knowledge holders and the knowledge needers. 

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

Do social media stifle knowledge sharing?

Do online social media drive a “spiral of silence” which can stifle proper debate?  It can, according to this techcrunch article, which points to this survey from Pew Research.

shhh
Shhh by Catherine on Flickr
I think everyone would agree that for knowledge to be shared effectively in organisations, people need to feel free to enter online debates and feel free to disagree with the opinions of others. Knowledge often comes through comparing and challenging conflicting “truths” in order that new truths and new knowledge can be born.
However the nature of online social media is such that we often create our own silos, and when addressing potentially contentious topics, are unwilling to discuss ideas which the rest of the group does not share (a structure called “polarised crowds” by this article, which I also explore in this blog post on groupthink in social media).  This has been referred to as “a spiral of silence” where people with dissenting views remain quiet.
The Pew Research survey explored the willingness to debate online by choosing a contentious topic (in this case the topic of government surveillance) and exploring how openly people would be willing to discuss this in various settings.

As shown below, social media are at the bottom of the list, and people are nearly 4 times less willing to share their thoughts openly online than they are round the dinner table.

The study has the following conclusions

Overall, the findings indicate that in the (government surveillance) case, social media did not provide new forums for those who might otherwise remain silent to express their opinions and debate issues. Further, if people thought their friends and followers in social media disagreed with them, they were less likely to say they would state their views on the story online and in other contexts, such as gatherings of friends, neighbors, or co-workers. This suggests a spiral of silence might spill over from online contexts to in-person contexts, though our data cannot definitively demonstrate this causation. .

Does this spiral of silence apply in workplace social media?

I have seen this happen in the work setting, as in the example below.

A new community of practice for project managers was launched in an organisation. Over a couple of months, activity started to pick up nicely in the community forum, with many people asking questions and receiving answers. However when we followed up with the originators of the questions, we found an interesting pattern had developed. The first answer to the question set the tone, and from that point the only people contributing to the thread were those who agreed with the first answer. Anyone who disagreed found a private offline way to contact the questioner, such as a phone call or a personal email.

We were able over time to resolve this behaviour through strong facilitation, and the community now works well in publicly exploring multiple views on all topics.

For those of us seeking to foster knowledge sharing within an organisation, the research study quoted above is very important. If we do not address this tendency towards a spiral of silence, our in-house social media will either create a new set of silos – silos divided by opinions rather than by geography or by organisational hierarchy (the “polarised crowds” mentioned above) – or people with contrary opinions will just drop out of the conversation.

The lessons to the Knowledge Manager are clear

 To start with, we cannot afford plural communities of practice covering the same topic. There needs to be one community covering each main work topic, not two or more polarised ones.

Then within each topic, disagreement needs to be sought and explored, in service of finding the truth. This is part of the role of the community facilitator – the role of allowing a diversity of opinion, and promoting and facilitating the dialogue that allows this diversity to be explored and resolved.

Finally, for the really contentious topics, you need a face to face discussion, such as a Knowledge Exchange.

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

The Knowledge Manager as Gardener – an organic metaphor

People often think of Knowledge as being Organic, or being an Ecosystem. But what does this imply for Knowledge Management and for the Knowledge Manager? 

The ecosystem or the garden is a pretty good metaphor for the world of Knowledge in an organisation. Knowledge is something that grows and develops; that can be replicated and seeded. It is not something immutable like a car or a factory or a pound coin that can be physically managed. Instead it needs to be nurtured and tended.

The Knowledge Manager, in this metaphor, is the gardener.  And anyone with a garden will know that if you want to produce flowers or vegetables, the life of a gardener is hard work, and gardens require a lot of management.

Let’s assume you are tending the Knowledge Garden for your organisation. Let’s assume that you are doing this to create value for the key stakeholders – the knowledge workers, the management, and your external customers.  If you want to create value from a garden, you don’t just “create the conditions so anything can grow”, because all you get is nettles, brambles and other weeds.

Instead you have several tasks.

  • Tilling and fertilising the ground. For gardening and for Knowledge Management, you need to get the conditions right for growth. This is the culture change element of your role – the communication strategy, the hearts and minds campaign. Also you need to provide the supporting infrastructure. Just as a gardener needs to put in place the canes, cloches and trellises to support the new seedlings, so you need to ensure there is sufficient technology to support emergent KM activities (recognising, of course, that technology alone will not create KM, any more than trellises alone will not create a garden).
  • Planting the seeds. These are the proof of concept events, the KM pilot projects, the early Knowledge Assets and the trial Communities of Practice which you might set up in the places of greatest demand and greatest knowledge value. 
  • Watering and fertilising the growing seeds. As a Knowledge Manager, the early seeds in your KM garden will need your oversight and your support. You will need to work with the CoP leaders, the knowledge owners and the project staff to ensure the early KM work does not wither and die through lack of care.
  • Propagating the growth. Some of the plants in your KM garden will thrive. Learn from these, find out the secrets of their success, and seek to reproduce these elsewhere. Just as a gardener will  take cuttings, runners and seeds from their prize-winning plants, you too can propagate success from the best performers. 
  • Removing the weeds and pests.  If there are any things that hamper the growth in your Knowledge Management garden – be these incentives that backfire, loud sceptics, or misbehaviour in Community of Practice discussions – then you need to address them, and see if you can remove them before they start to spread. Internal competition incentives, for example, need removal before they stunt the growth of KM or kill your tender plants. 

This is all very hard work, but the rewards for successful Knowledge Management are the same as those for a successful gardener – a thriving ecosystem and a mountain of produce.

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

Success factors for communities of practice – evidence from the World Bank

Communities of Practice are a promising intervention in Aid and Development, but what do they need to make them work?

Give a person a fish, you feed them for a day. Teach them to fish and you feed them for life. Set up a Fishing Community of Practice and you have the core of a thriving and sustainable industry that will last for generations.

That is the appeal of CoPs in the development sector. The development agency becomes not the provider of resources, nor the provider of knowledge, but the means by which the developing industries can manage their own knowledge and co-develop their industries.

But how well do these communities work, and what do they need to succeed? This is the topic of a 2005 World Bank study by Johnson and Khalidi, which looks at successes and failures in 3 communities of practice in the Middle East. The lessons they draw from this study as listed below, and even through the study has a limited sample, the conclusions match what we already know from in-house communities. I reproduce the lessons below, some of the commentary from the report, and some commentary of my own in italics.

  1. The most important issue determining a CoP’s success is leadership. A committed, energetic leadership is vital. The CoPs that specifically allocated funds to community leadership witnessed more dynamic activity over the course of the two years, whereas the activities of the third CoP (which did not apply the seed funding to staff, but rather covered these costs through the support of their organizational host) have all but stopped.  We know that leadership is crucial (this was number 7 out of the 10 success factors in our survey) and CoP leaders with training and enough time to do the role is success factors 3 and 4 from the Warwick business school survey. See also this post. Community leadership is crucial.
  2.  An organic need for networking is another critical success factor. Two of the pilot CoPs had a clearly identified demand from their members, who had requested a formalization of interactions. The third CoP did not tap into an existing network, but rather sought to create a new network. This more supply-driven approach had mixed results. Again survey results show that a demand-based community is likely to be more successful than a supply-based community, and this applies to CoP events as well as to online forums. The best communities are those which answer the questions and solve the problems of their members.
  3. A solid issue/knowledge base is needed before a community will coalesce. Moreover, interaction should be based on questions that lead to something concrete, like publications or face-to-face meetings, to help the community gel. Again we see the use of questions, in this case to create content. I would disagree that you need content before a community can coalesce, but I do agree that you need one or more issues. 
  4. Technology may not play a large role in networking.  This is a large conclusion from a small dataset – two of the communities attempted virtual interaction using e-discussions and both decided not to attempt another e-discussion. However the reason for the failure of the discussions is unknown. Each community held successful workshops; one held a large workshop but had no follow-up, while the others  had more modest workshops with many side discussions. Each had a static website with minimal new content added (perhaps as a result of the failure of online discussion), one of which has been completely stagnant since its creation. I would say that all these World Bank communities succeeded through workshops, but failed to back them up through technology. The conclusion that “technology may not pay a large role” is therefore untested, and our survey showed that “a mechanism for interacting online” was the number one success factor for in-house communities of practice. The world bank study shows you can have some success without technology, but has not tested the power of technology to, for example, support community interaction between the workshops. 
  5. There is a strong cost-benefit argument for supporting CoPs for knowledge exchange and learning. The US$20,000 invested in each CoP has had a far greater impact than had it been spent on a time-bound learning event. CoPs have the advantage of being active and adapting over time. The value proposition for a CoP is obvious, also the means of value delivery, and this blog contains many examples of quantified benefit from KM, many of which were delivered by CoPs. However this is still a mechanism which the Aid sector seems to be struggling with, and evidence of value such as shown in this article is very welcome. 
  6. A limited understanding of what a CoP entails can significantly affect the relevance and quality of CoP activities. CoPs can be easily mistaken for short term activities, meaning CoPs may get started but that they will not last. Donors who are thinking of supporting CoP activities should be aware of this, and adjust their expectations accordingly. Communities of practice are not a short term solution. They grow, mature and evolve over years and decades, and it is in their later life that the greatest value is delivered.

    View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

    What makes a community of practice successful? Top 10 factors

    There have been many articles and blog posts (including here) listing “Top Success Factors for Communities of Practice“. Usually these are based on a combination of experience and theory. Here’s a different approach.

    Image from wikimedia commons

    As part of our global global Knowledge Management Surveys in 2014 and 2017, we included an optional section on communities of practice. 251 people out of the 700 participants answered this section. Those that did were asked to rank the effectiveness of their Communities of Practice in adding value to their organisation. They were also asked to identify which of a list of CoP components they apply as part of their CoP approach.

    The combination of these two questions allows us to work out which of those components make the most difference to the effectiveness of the CoPs. The “difference figure” is calculated as (average effectiveness when this component is included) divided by (average effectiveness when this component is absent), expressed as a percentage. High percentages therefore represent the greatest effectiveness impact. The top ten factors are listed below, together with their effectiveness difference (for example CoPs with a way of interacting online are rated as 23% more successful than those which don’t).

    To be clear, this list is based not on theory or experience, but on looking at the common elements between successful CoPs as defined by global knowledge managers. The list is in order of declining importance, with the most important factors at the top. Obviously these elements are not independent, and so the list is approximate rather than exact.

    1. A way of interacting online – 23%
    2. A performance contract or objectives agreed with the sponsor – 20%
    3. A charter or terms of reference which reflects the members’ view of the network objectives – 19%
    4. A clear focus on business issues – 19%
    5. A business case – 19%%
    6. A defined facilitator in addition to the leader – 18%
    7. A defined leader – 17%
    8. A store for common documents – 15% 
    9. Training for CoP leaders and facilitators – 13%
    10. A collaboration tool for collaborating on documents – 11%
    Also, let’s not forget that size is important, and with Communities of Practice, Bigger is Better.

    So the number one requirement for effective CoPs is a way to interact online, while requirements 2, 3, 4 and 5 are all about governance and a common valuable purpose. Then 6, 7 and 9 are about leadership.

    Give communities a defined common purpose, a way to interact, and good leaders, and success will follow.

    View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

    Bigger communities of practice are more effective, data shows

    The bigger a community of practice is, the more value it delivers. At least according to our KM surveys. 

    Knoco conducted two major surveys of knowledge management programs in 2014 and 2017, collecting in total more than 700 results.

    As part of the survey, participants were asked whether Communities of Practice (CoPs) formed part of their KM approach. Over 250 people then continued to answer supplementary questions about their CoPs. (this was an optional section and not all of the people running CoPs took the option)

    One of these questions covered the average size of CoPs in terms of teh number of members, and another was a subjective assessment (marks out of 5) of Community effectiveness in delivering value. 
    From the plot shown here, there is a very close link between CoP size and perceived CoP effectiveness. Larger is better, and the largest CoPs were ranked as the most effective. There seems to be a jump in effectiveness between 100 and 500 members, which may represent “critical mass”

    This is not to say that smaller CoPs don’t add value, but respondents marked these are less effective.

    As you might expect, the larger CoPs are found in the bigger organisations, confirmed by the plot below of average CoP size v organisation size. The large organisations, with CoPs of more than 100 members, are where CoPs were deemed the most effective at delivering value.

    However the survey also showed that the majority of CoPs are small – the modal size being 10 people, the median 50 and the mean 250 (see plot below).

    There are a lot of organisations out there with very small Communities of Practice, delivering disappointing results. If this is your organisation, with many small CoPs, then consider if possible amalgamating them, as Bigger seems to be Better.

    Go here for more details of the survey results, and how to ask for a free copy.

    View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

    Example Community of Practice charters

    Every community of practice should have a charter, but what does a good charter look like?

    Image from wikimedia commons

    One of the main success factors for a community of practice is a charter.

    A charter is a definitional/governance document, created by the community members, which describes what the community is for, and how it will work. Often a draft is created by the community core team, or by the people present at the community launch event, and that draft is then refined over time through discussion within the community.

    The community charter usually contains the following elements:

    • Community Purpose – what the community is for; it’s high level aims and vision, and business case if appropriate 
    • Objectives – what the community is trying to achieve in concrete terms; things that you can measure
    • Scope – which areas of practice knowledge are in scope, and which are not
    • Processes – the ways in which the community will operate in order to share, use and co-create knowledge
    • Tools – the technologies the community plans to use 
    • Roles – who does what (names of the community leader, sponsor, core team etc)
    • Principles and Behaviours – which underpin the community.
    Let’s look at some charter for real communities of practice, and see what they cover. My favorite is the third one.
    The Community Charter for the PMI Agile Community of Practice contains the following elements:

    • Vision of Who We Are (a community of highly accountable project professionals, improving skills, expanding minds, and continuously raising the day-to-day effectiveness and professional satisfaction of project teams across the world.)
    • Mission (To equip PMI Members with Agile skills and knowledge)
    • Values
    • Goals & Objectives
      • Resources
      • Committed from our sponsor
    • Expected from community stakeholders 
    • Roles
    • Working/Operating Agreements
    I like the way resources has been split out, and I like the way “values” and “operating agreements” are differentiated.

    The Wisconsin Heart health community charter is a 9-page document containing the following sections:

    • Overview
    • Justification
    • Scope
      • Vision (Wisconsinites living with healthy hearts)
      • Mission (To improve cardiac health related outcomes across Wisconsin – especially a reduction in hypertension – through the advancement of best practices, establishment of strong organizational relationships, and the mutual activities of community of practice members)
      • Goals
    • High level requirements
    • Major Deliverables
    • Participation
      • Benefits
      • Norms
      • Ground Rules
    • Assumptions
    • Constraints
    • Risks
    • Roles and Responsibilities 
    • Facilitator

    For me, this is just a little too long, and many of the sections which could be single sentences, are paragraphs instead. However it is certainly a very well though through charter, and there are several charters out there that use a similar template.

    The Restraint Reduction Network community of practice

    Without using a formal template, the page linked above defines

    • The Vision of the community (We are a community seeking to equip one another to reduce restrictive interventions through using person-centred, proactive, preventative and therapeutic strategies)
    • The Mission (We share and discuss resources, tools, policies, research and personal experiences to encourage and inspire one another as we seek to improve quality of life for those at risk of restraint and the people who interact with them on a daily basis)
    • The tools the community uses,
    • and a really nice “Rules of Engagement” Graphic linked below.

    I think I like this charter best because it is concise and straightforward, and the Rules of Engagement poster is inspiring, simple, and can be printed and posted on a wall as a reminder of the way the community works.

    View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

    When knowledge sharing becomes collaboration

    There is a step in the maturation of communities of practice when their focus shifts from knowledge sharing to collaboration

    Working Together by Hepcat75
    Working together, a photo by Hepcat75 on Flickr.

    Collaboration is an unnatural act in humans.

    We are tribal animals, and all our instincts lead us to see life in terms of “us and them”. When we divide people into teams in our “Bird Island” experiment, for example, each isolated team naturally starts to compete against the others without any prompting from us.

    The famous “Eagles and Rattlers” experiment showed how this competition, when strengthened, began to lead to destructive behaviour. We can see this behaviour in any society driven by competition for limited resources.

    This is often the case in business. Divisions are in competition for budget and people, and as a result the familiar organisational silos emerge and strengthen. The Eagles/Rattlers experiment demonstrated that traditional forms of team-building – social events, movies etc – did not break these silos. Something different is needed.

    Communities of practice can begin to break these silos. Initially Communities operate as a self-help mechanism, where people in one silo raise a question which people in other silos can answer. Through principles of reciprocity and “what’s in it for me”, knowledge begins to flow through the communities.

    However there is a radical step in Community behaviour, when they start to focus, not on value to the individual, but the value they collectively can generate. In our Community Maturity model, this is the step from 3 to step 4 on many of the key variables, and is where communities move from being a mechanism for knowledge-sharing to a mechanism for collaboration.

    Let me explain why this step is so important, by going back to the “Eagles and Rattlers” experiment.

    In this experiment, the groups of boys in an American summer camp were divided into hostile tribes by giving them competitive tasks. However the experimenters were able to turn this around completely, and to develop a massively collaborative culture, simply by giving them collective challenges that each group could not solve on their own.

    Simple step, massively powerful outcome.  The way to break silos is to give challenges no silo can achieve on their own.

    The same thinking can be seen in the “T-shaped Manager” approach. Give managers collective targets, and they cease competing internally.

    Communities of practice can take this step almost as an evolutionary process. I remember a Community meeting many years ago, when someone stood up – eyes shining – and said “guys, just think what we would accomplish if we all worked together on this. I bet we could cut costs by 50%!”

    This is where a CoP starts to think less about one individual or team solving the problems on another, and more about pooling everyone’s knowledge to make a step-change in collective performance.  That’s when a sense of true collaboration begins within the Community – something that previously might have felt unnatural.

    That’s when you can hear the sound of silo walls collapsing

    View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.