Coherent communities

Jay Cross has initiated an online conversation about the Coherent Organization/Enterprise:

At the Internet Time Alliance, we’re big fans of narrating our work. We encourage clients to get their people to narrate their work, through blogs or other sharing media, for a number of reasons.

If you are a blogger, you know how blogging makes you reflect on your experience and draw conclusions. What’s more, if you are transparent about what you’re doing, your colleagues and acquaintances will know when and how to lend you a hand. Sharing your discoveries adds to the value of the networked Commons; I think of it as a requirement of good network citizenship.

In the last ten days, Harold Jarche, Clark Quinn, and I have been building on one another’s thoughts in public. We’re each teasing out the meaning of what we call the Coherent Organization with models.

Let me narrate my work so far.

I am interested in the role of communities of practice in knowledge sharing. I have been looking at how communities of practice can bridge our social networks with our work teams, helping us get the job done while being open to innovative ideas. This presentation is a work in progress but I think it is ready to go public and get your feedback. Here is my logic:

  1. Sharing complex knowledge requires strong social ties, but only working with our peers may blind us to outside ideas.
  2. Networks with diverse and weak ties are the best places to get new ideas, yet these are often unstructured and difficult to manage.
  3. Communities of practice, which share strong & weak social ties and have some purpose & structure, can bridge the gap between getting the job done and innovating.
  4. Therefore, encouraging and supporting communities of practice is essential for the knowledge-based enterprise.

Effective, or coherent, knowledge-sharing requires not just collaboration, but also cooperation and especially connections (communities).

8 Responses to “Coherent communities”

  1. Bonnie Koenig

    Some great thinking here, thanks for sharing. One of the great challenges that virtual options bring is bridging the gap between those in the community (of practice) who are more comfortable online and those who are less so (or who have less technical capacity). Would love to see more experimenting & lessons shared around this.

  2. Hans J. Stenger

    Many thanks for sharing your thoughts on Communities of Practice and their role in bridging project teams and networks. Also for my understanding the CoPs are bridging this gap.

    I’d like to add two things: their role for common language and understanding, and for the sustainable cultivation of capabilities.

    + Common language and mental models are prerequisites for effectively sharing knowledge and collaborating on complex matters. They facilitate congruent understanding and effective communication.

    Common language and mental models can grow from continual dialogue and learning in teams, during intense collaboration on joint endeavors. Both are strongly related to communities of practice since there conversation on complex matters can take place. Why? Communities of practice cultivate disciplines, related expertise, practical skills — and thus related language. Your statement “You know you are in a community of practice when it changes your practice” reflects this aspect.

    + Communities of practice can also play an important role for quality and state-of-the-art in a discipline.

    They represent a resilient, fluid “body of collective knowledge, skills and expertise” able to maintain the good things, and to take up, validate, refine and disseminate new ideas. Quite similar to the guilds of artisans and craftsmen they care for education and quality of the work delivered through defining, adapting to constant change, and disseminating the criteria for good work and related practice.

    In a company, a CoP might even be appointed as the trusted technical authority for a certain topic area. If a company (consciously or unconsciously) relies on individual experts (“the guru approach”) scattered across the organization, they may face the problem of critical mass or of islands with different cultures, both making international business more difficult than necessary.

    I hope these aspects enrich the discussion!

  3. Ralph Mercer

    narrating our work, is a great idea. To be successful it requires a work environment that values opinions and has an environment free of reprisal should you post dissenting views. Unfortunately that is not often the case, another overlooked fact is, most large networks (Gov, Mil) do not have the bandwidth or software to make these interactions and blogging an enjoyable process. Aging software and lack of social tools and repressive security leads to an environment that is only connected via email.

  4. John Baxter

    Great post,I like your thoughts on the role/value of collaborative communities.

    Quick note though: communities of purpose, unlike of practice, are resilient. In reality, traditional CoP’s are a mix of shared purpose (furthering the field) and personal (being better at what I do). This can be quite volatile because the impetus behind these purposes changes, but without them being front of mind, the community deteriorates. Conscious communities of purpose adapt, or sunset.

    I’m sure you’d have a few great examples of deterioration in knowledge management CoP’s, for example…


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