Thursday, June 16, 2005

Jamming communities under the radar

"When APQC goes into organizations to study them, who do you talk with? Who do you spend the most time with? Is it the formal organization to include the CoP function people? Or, do you talk to the community of practice leaders who are passionate about the practice that they are part of and are taking action to improve?

Because your entry point into the organization is the formal organization and the CoP function people, you may be skewed from the get go towards the formal interpretation of reality.

I wonder what would happen if you conducted a clandestine study of the most JAMMING communities of practice--communities that the formal organization might not even know about. "

Farida's comments:

You all are making me so happy by responding to my posts. We may have hit upon something with this topic.

To address your questions - You are absolutely right! We do go in through the formal organization and we do talk to the people "in charge" of CoP implementation whom I will refer to as the CoP Core Group. But....
Very rarely have I come across an organization where the management team sat down and said "Hmmmnnn....let's develop a CoP strategy. You, you and you, go forth and make CoPs." The reality has typically been that informal communities that have formed over the years suddenly come upon some innovative idea (process or product) that ends up saving the company money. All of a sudden they get management attention and a manager's first thought is "how do I replicate this?"
That's when CoP strategy happens and the people who were successful in their first CoP typically get "promoted" (I use the word loosely) to become part of the CoP Core Team or to lead it.
Having said I also admit that there are companies that sit down and say lets put a CoP strategy together. These companies are the ones that move cautiously when new approaches surface. Their management is searching for improvement approaches, maybe they participle in one of our studies or attend a conference, hear about CoPs and they go back and look for them in their organization. Now here's the point of contention.
Do they find jamming communities "under the radar".... they might, depending on your definition of jamming. If the communities are jamming because they just enjoy each other's company then yes one can say that they stayed under the radar. But if jamming means that the CoPs' interaction positively benefits the organization then I don't see how they could have managed to stay under the radar for long. In this day and age management is looking through a magnifying glass for opportunities to cut costs and increase revenue.

In both our studies during site visits we talk to not only the CoP core group but also to community members and leaders. In the latest study we actually created a separate survey for community members and leaders only. No core group. We asked questions like does your CoP help you in your work? Do you get other tangible/intangible benefits from it, does your management recognize your contribution? Etc. The survey was anonymous and we had over 600+ responses from 8 partner organizations.
In a nut shell CoP members and leaders thought their communities were Shangrila. Everything was wonderful in their world. A few responses were along the lines of our management does not recognize our efforts, or our CoPs are not as well aligned to the organization as we would like them to be, but by far majority of the responses were POSITIVE.
Well you can interpret that however you want, either its true or not. Because of the subjective nature of the survey we had never intended to make the survey public or make any deep conclusions based on it. It was just shared among the study participants. But I just wanted to mention that we look at all angles.

So last but not least, if there are jamming communities under the radar I am sure they would not want to talk with us because they would certainly lose their "ghost" status and suddenly become visible to the world.


Anonymous said...

Way cool discussion Farida!

In your studies of Communities of Practice, have you ever seen an informal community generate funding outside of the formal organization?

In other words, when a community of practice gets to a point in its growth when it needs resources to continue to develop, are there options outside of fighting for funding from the traditional sources in the organization?

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