So what exactly is a 'community of practice'?
Why have we created a community of practice? More to the point, what does it even mean?
Starting with the big picture, we are increasingly operating in a knowledge economy. Data and information are coveted. But it’s the connections that we make between the people who hold knowledge that are the magic moments of value creation.
We increasingly work in networks of teams. But we shouldn’t limit our thinking to the functional and project teams in our organisations. Cue communities of practice. Communities of practice differ from our formal work teams and are also different from our social networks (see the diagram below from Wenger & Snyder’s Harvard Business Review article).
In our formal work teams, we are focused on delivering a particular product or service and our membership is non-optional. The emphasis is on the ‘doing’. There are strong social ties, which come with many benefits, namely that things get done in an organised way. However, our close-knit work teams can be inward looking and tend towards group-think.
In our social networks, we collect business information and pass it on. We usually tap into our wider network when we, and our business acquaintances, identify a mutual need. Knowledge is sought and shared, and serves to widen our perspective, but rarely does it lead to innovation and action in our own area of expertise – there is another step to make sense of the information that we gather before we can do something about it in a way that is right for our organisation.
You can think of a community of practice as sitting between these two. The glue that holds together a community of practice is the members’ passion, commitment and identification with the group’s expertise.
Communities of practice don’t do much 'doing'. At the same time, they do more than simply collect information. They share, synthesise, filter and experiment with new knowledge. They are hotbeds of creativity and innovation. They are where the thinking happens that leads to ideas for new strategies. Communities of practice are highly conducive to problem solving, sharing of best practice and development of professional skills.
In the case of The HR Agenda, the group’s expertise is clearly HR. We host the community, facilitate its conversations and curate the input that is needed to spark conversations and bring together members who have the passion and commitment to add value.
Communities of practice exist both within and outside of organisations. We created The HR Agenda for the benefit of HR leaders who are likely to be one of very few, or the only one fulfilling their role in their organisation. We know that it can be an isolating role, and you are expected to have strategic and operational answers to an incredibly broad range of issues, as well as keeping on top of unrelenting and fast-paced change. We have created a confidential space for HR leaders to meet with a trusted group of like-minded peers to innovate and tackle tricky issues.
The beauty of our community is that our members self-select. Only those with the devotion and commitment to improve the work that they do to benefit their people and their organisation will join us. Our groups are aligned on a fundamental level to do great thinking and great work together.