Do we need to change our organizational culture first?

Organizational culture can work against communities of practice, if it is individualistic, competitive, and focused on the short term.

Changing organizational culture is very difficult. Change initiatives to address cultural issues have had mixed results at best. One of the problems of these change initiatives lies in their scale: they have to happen in lockstep across the organization. As a result they remain for the most part distant from people’s daily concerns.

Communities of practice are very sensitive to culture because of their voluntary nature and their basis in identity. But for the same reason they are also a locus for the creation of culture. Each community inherits the culture of the organization, and needs to build on what the culture offers. But being self-governed, it can to some extent choose to produce its own culture. This process does not even need to be deliberate.

Cultivating and integrating communities of practice is therefore likely to lead to a kind culture change in the long term, but one that takes place a community at a time. It is therefore less controlled and less uniform than traditional initiatives. But being in the hands of practitioners increases its chances of “taking.”

 


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