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Teams & Communities of Practice

Knowledge is one of the greatest resources that an organization can ever lay its hands on (OECD Publishing, 2004). It is for this reason that every organization is constantly seeking to develop its knowledge base through their recruitment of staff with the required level and scope of skills so that its objectives can be achieved. Otherwise, there is constant training of the available staff in different ways to ensure they get the required skills to use in the process of bringing the organization to the required level of growth.

Ideally, most approaches to knowledge management are aimed at identifying, creating, distributing, enabling, and representing insights into an area of practice. It covers all the means and strategies used to get the people involved achieving the required or desired goals and objectives. Two of the commonly applied ways are teams and communities of practice which are related but different in their approach to learning (Snyder & Wenger, 2000). This paper discusses the two approaches to learning, and particularly focuses on their key concepts and potential pitfalls in knowledge management.

The aim is to find out how teams and communities of practice can be effectively used. Teams Teams are essentially individuals who are brought

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together by a common goal or who need to achieve a certain objective by pooling their resources (Wenger, 2004). However, this definition is broadly expanding as information technology develops and today it is common to have people working towards a certain common purpose without ever having seen each other face to face.

These are called virtual teams and are located in different places. They might work online to create certain information, or to make the information available to others online (Wenger, 2004). Virtual teams are more joined in their purpose of seeking to solve available problems such as customer complaints or needs for certain products or services. The generation of totally new work processes also forms a significant part of virtual teams. Whether virtual or real, teams are essential in the learning process.

Making them successful is the key desire of every organization as working together can usually be very challenging sometimes. For a team to learn effectively there has to be a definite attempt to make them mobile. Knowledge workers are usually people who have gifts, skills, and attributes that are needed so much by the organization but who might move away with the skills. A key pitfall that come out here in dealing with teams is that unless they are cared for well, it is very easy to lose them ass they move with their knowledge.

When this happens and a member of the team or a group of them leaves, then it becomes hard for the learning process to go on as usual (Wenger, 2004). Those left behind might feel incapacitated and might even fail to break even from the state in which they are left. In fact it can become very difficult to the management to continue wit the project requiring the particular knowledge owing to the departure. To successfully manage teams, therefore, there have to be measures in place to ensure that they cannot leave the organization until the purpose is achieved (OECD Publishing, 2004).

A second pitfall that results with teams in knowledge management is that there tends to be a lot of group loafing especially when the team is too large and the main purpose of the team is to learn a certain concept. Usually, only a few individual within the team will accomplish the tasks through increased participation. The rest will not do anything and their level of learning from the process might ne lower than expected.

As such, teams can only be successful in achieving a purpose if they are small enough for everyone to take part in the activities assigned (Wenger, 2004). Communities of Practice Like teams, communities of practice have a common purpose or objective to accomplish (Snyder & Wenger, 2000). They are groups of people brought together by a common purpose or concern and who realize that it is only by working together that the concern can be addressed. Communities of practice are defined by a shared domain.

They are brought together by this domain which might include learning a key technology, design, or methodology. They bring together people who share a practice and they learn through their process of meeting together. Theirs is a community of people in the same practice as far as their domain and not profession is concerned. Therefore, communities of practice ought not to be limited by structures or systems (OECD Publishing, 2004). They traverse geographical and organizational boundaries. However, their pitfalls include their need for autonomy.

In an organization, it sometimes becomes difficult to control these groups and can instead be sources of trouble for the organization. Their autonomy allows them to engage in activities which make them very powerful to a level that controlling them is a difficult, even impossible endeavor (Snyder & Wenger, 2000). A second pitfall is that by virtue of their being practitioner-oriented, communities of practice can exert dominance in that area that it can becomes difficult for the organization to replace them as they become almost indispensable over time.

The organization becomes so dependent on them they can use this position as a bargaining tool to gain more power, autonomy, and other favors in the organizations without following the due process (Wenger, 2004). They can hold the management at ransom for their being too powerful and too connected to be replaced. Then they are usually too informal to be real spotted or noticed for official or formal assigning of responsibility. This is a potential pitfall in that while their effects are felt in the organization, their identity is almost always concealed (Snyder & Wenger, 2000).

In the event of trouble, it can be very difficult for the organization to hold them or any of their members accountable. Finally, the other pitfall is that these communities of practice cut across geographical and organizational boundaries. This can easily bring about a clash of interests for the organization as its goals might not be the same as the goals of the communities of practice in which its employees are members (Snyder & Wenger, 2000). This can hinder rather than enhance the achievement of the objectives of the organization.

Conclusion Both teams and communities of practice are good tools for knowledge attainment in any organization if they are used successfully. However, failure to use them effectively by highlighting and acting on their potential pitfalls can spell doom for the organization. The key here is for management teams to recognize the existence of such teams and communities ad to try to shape them in a way that minimizes their risk factors so that they work for the benefit of the organization and not against it.

Word count: 1, 135 References OECD Publishing (2004). Knowledge Management Measuring Knowledge Management in the Business Sector: First Steps. OECD Publishing, 2004 Snyder, W. & Wenger, E. (2000). “Communities of practice: the organizational frontier. ” Harvard Business Review. January-February 2000, pp. 139-145. Wenger, E. (2004). “Knowledge management is a donut: shaping your knowledge strategy with communities of practice. ” Ivey Business Journal

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