The aim of this post is to illustrate the dynamics between a Community of Practice (CoPs) and a Team.
Without getting too deep into theory here’s an establishing paragraph on what is a Community of Practice.
Communities of Practice typically are a group of people coming together to share and learn about a common interest; as well as building a voluntary output of materials. These are usually not driven by management, instead participation is voluntary, and traditionally the goal is about learning and building capabilities rather than performing tasks.
CoPs enable workers to be more effective and capable in their team tasks, by being able to discover people and form cross-functional groups to build their know-how on a topic. What is learnt in a CoP can be applied to tasks.
What I’m often finding is that we have lots of requests by teams to use the CoP online tools as team spaces, in order to get work and tasks done. For more on this please refer to my past posts Team-based communities, Team-based communities are about change, commitment and tasks, Team-based communities : Transparency and Crowdsourcing for a more cohesive workplace
Team-based CoPs are not focused on learning, although this always occurs by default, but are more driven towards solving a problem, coordinating a task, etc…
A Team-based CoP may use the same tools, but will certainly have different dynamics to a cross-functional topic CoP.
NOTE: If we wanted to get technical we could say we have:
Teams - use online social tools like Basecamp to get tasks done
CoPs - use online social tools like Clearspace to share, learn and build a practice on a cross-functional topic
Team-based CoPs - use online social tools like Clearspace to share, and learn about your team (more about communicating and learning in general as opposed to the actual tasks)
But I usually collapse a Team and a Team-based CoP into the same notion.
Anyway here is a comparison in dynamics between Teams and CoPs.
Achieve an outcome (task) or provide a service/product
Explicit timelines, tasks and goals
Shared area of interest
Learning and sharing
No expected time limit
Experienced members earn greater status
Explicit leader or manager
(others on equal footing)
Encourage participation and enthusiasm
Power Law Distribution
[ADDED 13/03/09: As per Nancy White’s comment below I was reminded of a seminal paper on CoPs, here are some excerpts:
“A community of practice may or may not have an explicit agenda on a given week, and even if it does, it may not follow the agenda closely. Inevitably, however, people in communities of practice share their experiences and knowledge in free-flowing, creative ways that foster new approaches to problems.”
“Communities of practice can drive strategy, generate new lines of business, solve problems, promote the spread of best practices, develop people’s professional skills, and help companies recruit and retain talent.”
“The organic, spontaneous, and informal nature of communities of practice makes them resistant to supervision and interference.”
IMAGE SOURCE: Communities of Practice: The Organizational Frontier]