Mark and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves over the last couple of days delivering our communities of practice workshops. The discussions were excellent. Thanks to all the participants.
One conversation led me to rethink how to conceptualise the relationship between projects and CoPs. In many organisations projects are the lifeblood. It’s how things get done. These projects consist of teams striving to kick goals and hit targets. Communities of practice, on the other hand, are designed for learning and improving the capabilities of their members. While they might have a stated mission their trajectory evolves rather than being predefined. I used to draw these two entities as an arrow and cloud.
Projects often pose questions to the communities and practice. The adept community of practice is aware of the projects it can assist and pro-actively provides answers and ideas.
The problem with this combination of metaphors (arrow and cloud) is it reinforces the stereotype that communities of practice are fluffy, ethereal, add-ons which are only exist to serve the real business of the organisation—the projects.
Here is an alternative depiction where the community of practice acts as the solid core supporting the project’s activities. The back and forth interaction between the community and the project remains but the message changes to one where the community is a solid and real foundation to how things get done around here.
I would love to hear of other ways to represent these ideas.