Thursday, 19 February 2015

Communities of practice - nothing new, it would seem!

Frequent readers of this blog will be familiar with my take on military culture and KM.  Both the American and British Armies have invested resources into the knowledge management capabilities that can facilitate organisational learning.  However, military culture often prevents such investment achieving its intended value. 
This is because whilst ‘heroic leadership’ can often be useful, perhaps necessary, for getting scared and weary soldiers to engage in combat, it is too often very hard for such heroes to admit to their own mistakes, thereby sending out the example that euphemisms and cover-ups are okay.  The cumulative effect of this is an exaggeration of achievements and a wilful blindness when it comes to failure – neither of which help successors to learn.
One of the KM capabilities with which armies have been experimenting is the Community of Practice (CoP) – a forum within which functional colleagues can collaborate, seek mutual help as well as sharing ideas and lessons.  The British Army’s dabbling in CoPs has yet to bear the fruit for which many have hoped but these things take time and require support, not least from above.
Interestingly, this article by Dr Robert Foley of Kings College London, shows how the Prussian Army was using Communities of Practice over 200 years ago.  For me, a pertinent quote is, “While the membership was obviously as self-selecting group — only those with the interest and the aptitude applied and were accepted — being part of this society also clearly helped create important professional networks that aided the careers of its members.” 
People need to see that participating in CoPs is worthwhile and, when they do so, they will join up.  That means it’s up to other members to spread the word and to use clear examples of where pulling on the brainpower and know-how of several hundred colleagues helped them get results far beyond what they would have achieved on their own.
For information about Knoco’s CoP services, please contact me direct or via the Knoco website.

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