Communities of Practice: The Organizational Frontier – A Review
Sharing of knowledge and expertise has always been the mainstay of development, be it personal or organizational. It is a natural tendency of humans with specific interests and goals to interact with others having similar interests and ambitions, and engage in productive discussions that enable them in achieving their goals more efficiently. Such interactions give rise to “communities”, which are well-knit groups of like-minded professionals who share their knowledge and tactical skills and even attempt at solving common problems related to their area of expertise through collective brainstorming. These are active groups where knowledge is shared dynamically and which drive change and advancements in their respective fields. Such communities have been termed as ‘Communities of Practice’.
The present article discusses the concept of ‘Communities of Practice’ in the context of business organizations. This is a review of the insightful paper, Communities of Practice: the Organizational Frontier, by Wenger and Snyder (2000), wherein, the authors discuss how business firms can cultivate communities of practice in their own organizations and use them to leverage their knowledge and productivity. The key points made by the authors are discussed here. Examples of how such communities can add value to business organizations and relevant success stories discussed by the authors are also reviewed. This paper also attempts at discussing the applications of these concepts apart from critically evaluating the authors’ ideas.
II. Key Concepts
The key concepts discussed in the reviewed paper are summarized as follows:
A. Communities of Practice
The authors describe communities of practice as “groups of people informally bound together by shared expertise and passion for a joint enterprise” (Wenger and Snyder, 2000, p. 139). These groups are diverse and expansive. They could range from a group of engineers involved in deep-water drilling to “frontline managers in charge of check processing at a large commercial bank” (Wenger and Snyder, 2000, p. 139). Individuals in a community of practice interact regularly, either through direct face to face contact and group discussions, or through other modes of communication such emails. The primary output of these interactions is knowledge, which is intangible. According to the authors, this knowledge 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” (Wenger and Snyder, 2000, p. 140). Communities of practice thus prove to be advantageous assets for an organization, and nurturing them is beneficial in the long term. However, such communities are difficult to cultivate, as they are spontaenous and will have to develop on their own. Therefore, organizations find it difficult to build, let alone...