Investing in Communities Of Practice

Given the investments a company has made in enabling virtual teams wouldn’t it make sense to leverage this(by creating CoPs)to further influence the outcomes expected(Borrowed from Robert Buckman’s book) out of these teams:

1.Speed of response to customer needs/opportunities
2.Speed of innovation
3.Productivity
4.Mentoring
5.Growth of people

But to do this we need to understand the interplay between teams and communities.While process centric teams could focus on delivering quick results,communities that cut across teams could focus on building long term capabilities(Examples:Creation of best practices,building individual/group skills ).Executives are under tremendous pressure to show results with CoPs(in case its institutionalized). The primary assumption being Virtual teams and CoPs are the same. Unlike virtual teams,CoPs need a lot of nurturing. Wenger says:

“If I were talking to a CEO, I would say to him or her, ‘If you choose to build communities of practice for your members, understand that significant communication and nurturing will be required.These communities are completely voluntary. If your communities don’t create value, people will vote with their feet. … Don’t just open a few discussion boards on your Web site. You have decided to cultivate something that is alive.”

The dynamics are different in most of the dimensions when we compare a virtual team and a community be it purpose,communication,trust,norms etc.,

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