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Promoting Membership and Participation for Communities of Practice

In: Business and Management

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Running Head: [Problem Analysis]

Problem Analysis: Promoting Membership and Participation for Communities of Practice

A Paper Presented To
Allen Stout

In partial fulfillment of the requirement of
MGMT 300, Management Practicum

University of La Verne
College of Business and Public Management

Samana U. Tinsley

La Verne, California
October 30, 2012

Introduction A community of practice (CoP) is, according to cognitive anthropologists Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger, a group of people who share a craft and/or a profession. The community may evolve naturally because of the members' common interest or it can be created specifically with the goal of gaining knowledge related to their field. It is through the process of sharing information and experiences with the group that the members learn from each other, and have an opportunity to develop themselves personally and professionally (Lave & Wenger, 1991). CoPs can exist online, such as within discussion boards and newsgroups, or in real life through face to face meetings.
Communities of practice are not new phenomena. This type of learning practice has existed for as long as people have been learning and sharing their experiences through storytelling. Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger coined the phrase in their 1991 book, 'Situated learning' (Lave & Wenger, 1991), and Wenger then significantly expanded on the concept in his 1998 book, 'Communities of Practice' (Wenger, Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity, 1998).
Time is saved by consulting with members of a CoP. Members of the community have tacit knowledge, which can be difficult to store and retrieve outside. For example, one person can share the best way to handle a situation based on his experiences, which may enable the other person to avoid mistakes and shorten the learning curve. In a CoP, members can openly discuss and brainstorm about a project, which can lead to new capabilities. The type of information that is shared and learned in a CoP is boundless.
Management of a community of practice often faces many barriers that inhibit individuals from engaging in knowledge exchange. Some of the reasons for these barriers are egos and personal attacks, large overwhelming COP's, and time constraints (Wasko & Faraj, 2000). Description of the Organization
Greg Goldasich, the general manager of an IT department in Southern California Edison (SCE), saw the value of CoPs for the continuously changing world of technology. He is the founder and primary sponsor for the Architecture, Engineering and Design Center of Competency (AED CoC), a virtual organization, organized into smaller CoPs, made up of technically focused employees and contingent workers from IT and partnered business units.
The AED CoC exists to share knowledge and best practices across the architecture, engineering, and design disciplines and apply them to improve solution quality and integration. The organization’s members meet regularly to present new ways of applying tools and technology in the SCE environment and discuss case studies, lessons learned, emerging trends, and the latest industry research. Focused on current or near-term advances in technology, the AED CoC consists of both competency development activities as well as practice-oriented activities (Lindsay, 2010). The value of the AED CoC lies both in the positive impacts made to many highly visible SCE projects and in the professional development benefits realized by members. (Goldasich, 2012)
Through smaller, competency-based CoPs, members have the opportunity to collaborate on deliverables aimed at achieving greater technology understanding and standardization. Ultimately, developing and spreading better practices faster (Lindsay, 2010).
The AED CoC offered training courses on the methodology and processes of Systems Engineering as well as those focused on industry knowledge.
Communities of Practice are a term that refers to the ways in which people naturally work together (Goldasich, 2012). CoPs are neutral places. Unlike team members, community members can offer advice on a project with no risk of getting entangled in it; they can listen to advice with no obligation to take it. These are reasons why a group of scientists in a pharmaceutical company, driven by urgency to develop new products, see their community as a place to think, reflect, and consider ideas too "soft" for the development teams. (Wenger, McDermott, & Synder, 2002)
The AED CoC operated on a decentralized structure. Greg Goldasich was the chair of the program, and each CoP had a team leader and sponsor manager. The team leader was nominated by the participating members. The sponsor manager was appointed by Goldasich.
Description of the Problem Good community architecture invites many different levels of participation. (Wenger, McDermott, & Synder, 2002) Maintaining membership and sustaining active participants has proven to be quite a challenge since participation in voluntary and presence of the AED CoC is little-known at SCE. With many long-running projects at SCE, both managers and employees were finding it difficult to participate and maintain productive CoPs. In addition, with the General Rate Case challenge, many managers and employees saw sponsoring CoPs as wasteful practice of company resources. Scan and detection Each CoP lead is responsible for holding regularly scheduled meetings and tracking attendance. In addition to separate CoP meetings, the AED CoC hosted monthly meeting where all the CoPs and guests were welcome to attend. At the monthly AED CoC meetings was where emerging trends, best practices and latest industry research was shared by certain CoPs. At the height of the program, a little over 100 people attended the monthly meetings. We saw a direct correlation with the budget cuts to the attendance rating. In the last year of the AED CoC operations, attendance dwindled to 30 participants. Problem description Without a robust participation and membership, IT professionals may fall behind regarding knowledge and best practices. If IT and knowledge management falls behind, both the company and business professional suffers. Time may be wasted in resolving troubles and finding solutions when challenges arise.

Analysis of the Problem In order to help the AED CoC thrive, we need to build up membership through effective leadership and awareness through marketing and branding. CoP leaders and sponsor managers play an important role in shaping the team effectiveness (Daft, 2012).
Effective Team Leadership An IT CoP can only thrive in an innovative organization. The AED CoC is structured as a decentralized and organic organization to suite this need. The most effective leadership style this organization is a transformational leader (Chen, 2006, pp. 43-44).
In order for any team to be successful, they must have an effective leader. It is the leader’s responsibility to articulate a clear, compelling purpose and direction (Daft, 2012). Upon closer observation, it was found that successful CoPs were led by active and energetic leads (Goldasich, 2012). Transformational leaders are generally energetic, enthusiastic and passionate. Not only are these leaders concerned and involved in the process; they are also focused on helping every member of the group succeed as well. Transformational leaders are distinguished by their special ability to bring about innovation and change by recognizing the followers’ and organization’s needs and concerns.
Good team leaders embrace the concept of teamwork in deed as well as words (Daft, 2012). Sharing power, information and responsibility was also a key to their success. Those CoP leads who shared the responsibility and credit for presenting at AED CoC monthly meetings had higher attendance by CoP members.
Marketing and Branding For any business to succeed, the product or service it provides must be known to potential customers. A large portion of the company did not know the AED CoC existed – much less the invaluable services the virtual organization could have provided. We have to use marketing strategies to create service awareness. Without marketing, the potential customers were never aware of the business offerings, so the business did not have the opportunity to progress and succeed.
The AED CoC and various CoPs had a narrow group of participants and followers: IT personnel located in the Rivergrade facility. Sponsor managers encourage their direct reports to participate, but outside of that scope, not too many people are familiar with the AED CoC – let alone CoPs. Visibility of the work and knowledge the CoP has to offer is limited. A strong endorsement from executive leaders could have helped the AED CoC grow and thrive.
Conclusion
The CoPs are a valuable assess to the company – any company. Many departments within large corporations are working in siloes and all trying to solve many of the same problems. Collectively they have already come up with solutions for some of them. There are better ways of doing business and CoPs are a part of the solution.
Based on the advantages of collaboration technologies that connect groups of people, I propose that the organization should consider developing electronic communities of practice and manage knowledge as a public good. Through my research, I found successful communities have members that act out of community interest rather than self-interest, and that self-interest depreciates the value of the community. When knowledge is managed as a public good, people feel that they have a moral obligation to share, and this moral obligation supersedes the desire to maximize self-interest.

References
Chen, S.-S. (2006). Leadership Styles and Organization Structural Configurations. The Journal of Human Resource and Adult Learning.
Daft, R. L. (2012). Management. In R. L. Daft, Leading Teams (pp. 514-515). Mason, OH: South-Western, Cengage Learning.
Goldasich, G. (2012, October 26). General Manager. (S. Tinsley, Interviewer)
Inside Knowledge. (2006, July 25). Developing KM, Case study - Fluor Corporation. Retrieved October 29, 2012, from Inside Knowledge: http://www.ikmagazine.com/xq/asp/txtSearch.CoP/exactphrase.1/sid.0/articleid.2F806554-8C44-47DF-8BC8-40E528B026CD/qx/display.htm
Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Lindsay, K. (2010, October 10). AED CoC Brochure. Architecture, Engineering, and Design Center of Competency. Irwindale, CA, USA: Southern California Edison, IT.
Wasko, M. M., & Faraj, S. (2000). It is what one does”: why people participate and help others in electronic communities of practice. The Journal of Strategic Information Systems, 9(2-3).
Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wenger, E., McDermott, R., & Synder, W. M. (2002, March 25). Harvard Business School. Retrieved October 2012, from http://hbswk.hbs.edu/archive/2855.html

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