Thursday, 15 July 2010

Rise and fall of a community

This rather sad rise-and-fall progression for a community of practice was published by Tom Stewart in "The Invisible Key to Success" in Fortune magazine, 5 August 1996, and was adapted from work at Shirley Corporation. It represents what commonly happens to communities that become over-managed.

Although the publication is old, the progression can still be seen today, anywhere senior management take too much of an interest in Communities.

0 Months
Creation of Community of Practice

2 months
Community of practice meets for the first time

4 months
Community begins to develop innovation through shared insight and problem solving. Group begins to attract organizational attention.

6 months
Senior manager becomes intrigued with the community of practice and begins to attend meetings. Manager offers to act as advocate and acquire resources for the group.

8 months
Manager begins to dominate the session with questions-the meetings begin to focus less on sharing insights and more on educating the manager regarding the community's area of expertise.

10 months
Manager obtains corporate funding, proposes instituting ROI metrics to track performance.

12 months
Community of practice dissolves. Members cease to attend meetings.


The moral is, if there is that much senior management engagement, you don't need a community of practice, you need a community of purpose - a very different animal altogether.


Stephen Dale said...

I've seen this happen myself on the local gov CoP platform ( In fact, I have a slide on lessons learnt in setting up this platform which reads:

"Management can hamper or kill a community… cannot make it thrive!"

Nick Milton said...

I am sorry (but not surprised) to hear that, Steve!

Management can hamper and kill, and cannot MAKE a community thrive, but management CAN create the conditions where communities are more likely to thrive.

KM is like gardening (see

A gardener cannot force a plant to grow, even though they can kill a plant. However a good gardener creates the conditions for plants to flourish. He/she prepares the ground, plants the seeds, nourishes and waters, removes weeds, and stands back to watch the plant growing.

That's the role of management with CoPs - create the conditions, then stand back

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