Friday, June 17, 2005

Have any communities been funded from external sources?

"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? "

Farida's comments

In my research so far I have not seen any communities that have been funded using external sources. One of the main reasons for that in my opinion is that the information shared inside communities is sensitive to some degree. Members of a CoP where trust is securely established will share their dirty laundry in hopes of being helped by their peers. The very notion of going to an external source for funding would mean that the funding source would own some of the community or at least some rights to it and that may not be in the best interest of the organization.

For example, Fluor Corporation always gets inquiries from its customers wanting to know if they can be part of Fluor's communities or if they can get access to data and Fluor has decided against it since the information shared in their communities is what gives them the competitive edge.

What I have seen are "shared service" models for communities. Chargebacks are a means of funding and several organization go that route. The Core CoP group is self sustaining in that it stays in business if it can provide value to its customers through the implementation and support of communities.

To Dinesh, thank you for your valuable insight. I am sure my readers are thrilled.

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.

Do communities of practice HAVE to show tangible value in order to be funded?

Hi all,
Thank you to the person who responded to my posting and provided their point of view. I truly value your interaction.

The issue you speak about,

"What if formal structures have actually begun to prevent the organization from achieving its purpose? Even great leaders atop the formal chart can't seem to overcome the inertia. By bringing the informal social systems like networks and communities of practice under formal organizational control, we actually limit the
power of the informal to make a positive difference for people and society."

is the one that forward thinkers are now concerned about. It seems that in our wonderful capitalistic economy every time something innovative is discovered, especially innovation that leads to returns, corporate capitalism is just waiting there to absorb it into the mainstream. And I agree with you, sometimes that kills the effort completely.

So at one end we could say finally KM and CoPs are becoming part of mainstream and being realized as value add activities, but on the other hand the very nature of CoPs is such that if it loses its edge when it gets absorbed into mainstream.

I am sure this is not a debate anyone can win per se, just an articulation of different points of view.


Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Is structure harming communities?

Hi all, this comment was posted on the blog and I think its a great discussion topic so I wanted to answer it on the blog itself as a primary entry.

"I'm wondering if you agree with the APQC KM Roadmap to Success idea that the culmination for org KM is institutionalizing KM. I am particularly interested in your thoughts on institutionalizing communities of practice.

Remember Etienne Wenger and William Snyder's HBS article in 2000 called CoP: The Organizational Frontier? In that article they describe the managerial dilemma of supporting CoPs without destroying them. I loved the story of the farmer who killed the golden goose to get at the gold.

I'm wondering if we are not heeding Wenger and Snyder's warnings. If the formal organization coopts informal social systems, aren't they killing the golden goose?"

My thoughts

In our earlier study on "Building & Sustaining Communities of Practice" this concern is exactly what we had articulated in the closing section of the report. That is, if organizations start managing communities heavily then they will lose their sense of being a community and start feeling like another business unit.

I have thoughts that go both ways on this argument. In our recent study on CoPs what was clear among organizations was that communities had to display tangible value in order to continue to be funded. This begged the argument that expectation of tangible value meant imposing a structure on the community and many organizations have in fact done that. So if I follow the "purist" thought process that a community is a group of individuals that come together because they want to and not because they have to then one can assume that in this new structured CoP there will exist both types of individuals. Most of them hopefully will participate because they want to, because they see the inherent value to their jobs and their lives but there will also be some that will join because they have to due to management visibility. Does this intermingling then of voluntary and involuntary membership change the fact that it is still a community? I am open to anyone who wants to comment on that. My thought is doesn't. Maybe its a modified community structure but the base goal of the community is still the same. That is, to share knowledge that others want.

Where the analogy of killing the golden goose is concerned, we do find communities that die as a result of increased management attention but in most cases if the community is in fact the golden goose then management finds people who are willing to commit to outcomes to start up a community. In such cases the people who did not want the management attention shy away from the community and those who can handle it participate.

Another interesting change among our partner organizations was the recognition that CoPs could in fact take many forms. There are groups of people who just want to meet and talk and not worry about outcomes. For them the converstaion is enough. In such cases management says "its ok to continue to do that, just don't ask us for money, because if you do then you have to justify the expense." Then there are groups of people that don't mind the outcomes and want increased visibility in the organization. Just the fact that they have structured outcomes does not make them any less of a community. They are still like minded people, they still like talking to each other and sharing, the only difference is they are taking their knowledge sharing to knowledge creation and dissemination that impacts the organization's botom line.
So organizations are starting to understand both these types of communities and are supporting both of them.

I hope I have provided enough information to your comment. I thank you for taking the time to respond to my postings.
take care