Friday, June 02, 2006

Does leadership style affect Community of Practice effectiveness?

Does leadership style impact the effectiveness of communities of practice (CoP)? That is, communities of practice by definition are loosely based “organizations” defined by their members’ identification and affiliation to the community’s goals. The nature of their interaction are intended to be peer-to-peer, minimizing the effects (and sometimes the requirements) of hierarchical knowledge transfer as might be seen in more traditional organizational forms. So the newest member is assumed to have as much to contribute to the success of the community as the most senior; the staff member contributing and participating as effectively as the chief executive. This democratization of the community is what gives a CoP its knowledge sharing power.

But what of the leadership style applied to the CoP? Can the executive sponsor, or community leader, or other influential champion of a CoP be an autocrat when it comes to managing the community? Must a community leader be collaborative, participative, sensing, and so on, in order for the community to function effectively? As a specific example, let’s say that Organization A has traditionally been a “command and control” type of culture, and Organization B has been widely acknowledged as being collaborative, innovative, and less sensitive to hierarchy. Now let’s say that both organizations decide to formalize the communities of practice naturally inherent in all organizations. They each develop strategies, commit resources, assign roles and responsibilities, and require measurement of results. Will their previous leadership styles automatically lead to more effective (or less effective) CoPs, or will the communities by their nature negate the effects of leadership style? What have you seen?