Monday, September 13, 2004

Challenges in implementing communities of practice

Sorry y'all! I know I have been gone a long time. Circumstances beyond my control and a great example of some of the challenges we face in implementing communities today. Sometimes we just don't have the time. Between traveling and school and managing a team of content writers, and managing a community.... You get the picture. Every night as I lay down I think darn!!!! I did not put anything on my blog today. And I know I am not unique in this. Most of you share exactly the same or worst predicament in trying to manage work, home and professional growth.
So back to challenges. Lets look at challenges broken down by: Building and managing communities, roles, support and funding, information technology, sustaining, and measuring the impact of communities.
Senior leadership involvement is probably the most common challenge of building and managing communities. Although communities are supposed to be organic and grow and die naturally, if an organization wants its communities to be responsive and innovative it is going to have to support it formally to some extent. That's where management comes in. Ideally senior management would be supportive of communities, however we have found that communities is one of the rare approaches that does not necessarily need upper management approval. In a "real" community, where people get to together because they want to not because they have to, the members don't view community membership as "work." They participate in the community because they get something out of it. Ok! so that was "fantasy-land," reality is that although most of us participate in things we get value from it would be nice if it were recognized as part of our job and we did not have to get burned out and give up on communities completely. That's where the boss comes in. Even if senior management is not involved, general, departmental,line, etc. managers have the authority to give their employees some time to participate in the community and allow their employees to grow professionally.

Time,is the other obstacle in managing communities. You may find the time to participate but where does one find the time to manage. The best solution for this is to break up responsibilities. See if you can get administrative help from your department for things like sending out invites, finding the conference room, arranging for the food ( if there is any), etc. That will leave the community leader to focus on the value add work of finding out what the community members want to talk about, researching the topic a bit, maybe finding a speaker, etc.

The other big issue in building communities is getting people motivated to participate. Again, just remember if you are fighting it, that is people don't want to participate maybe they are not getting anything out of it and its not a good community. Look for pockets of individuals that are already banding together in some form. They will appreciate the attention more than those that are fighting against you.

Another challenge in the build phase, especially if its a new community has to do with scope and focus. It's during this phase that the team has to decide if the community is going to be very specific or general, its its under the radar or a big-bang, and if its grass roots or top down created. So again the logical answer would be to identify stakeholders, to make sure this is a team effort, to make sure that the people who will be leading the community are involved in these decisions.

A lot of what I am writing is run of the mill, how we work. I am listing these in context of creating and maintaining communities with the hope that if you are in the process of creating communities in your organization you will think about and account for these challenges beforehand and be ready with answers when it's your turn to present a business case to your senior management.
As always... please send me some thoughts. I know a few of you are reading this blog now so there is no excuse for not participating. Please send in your challenges so we can have a discussion or at least get some answers or suggestions for you.

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