What are three key success factors for communities of practice?

Communities of practice are complex social structures, whose voluntary and self-governing nature makes them quite sensitive to subtle dynamics. As a result a host of factors potentially contribute to their success (and to their failure). Any of them can become critical in some circumstances, but if we are asked to name our top three, we generally mention the following:

  • Identification: Communities of practice thrive on social energy, which both derives from and creates identification. Passion for the domain is key. This makes the negotiation of the domain a critical success factor.
  • Leadership: A key success factor is the dedication and skill of people who take the initiative to nurture the community. Many communities fail, not because members have lost interest, but simply because nobody has the energy and time to take care of logistics and hold the space for the inquiry.
  • Time: Time is a challenge for most communities, whose members have to handle competing priorities. Theoretically, time should not be an issue if the interest is there, but practically it remains a constant challenge. Because time is at such a premium, a key principle of community cultivation is to ensure “high value for time” for all those who invest themselves.

Other candidates for success factors include: self-governance, a sense of ownership, the level of trust, recognition for contributions, high expectations for value creation, organizational voice, connection to a broader field, interactions with other communities.

 


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