I was recently asked to ruminate on the warning signs of a failing community of practice and it occurred to me that maybe a better topic to start would be the de(signs) of CoPs to keep them from failing in the first place. After all, if you do these things first, you won’t have to worry as much about the failure of your CoPs in the future. Besides, I can always pontificate on the signs of failure later (for those who didn’t heed this advice). So with that in mind, here’s a list of our Top 10 ways to design in success.
All CoPs should have:
- A compelling, clear business value proposition for all involved
- A dedicated, skilled facilitator or leader
- A coherent, comprehensive knowledge map for the core content of the CoP
- An outlined, easy-to-follow knowledge-sharing process
- An appropriate technology medium that facilitates knowledge exchange, retrieval, and collaboration
- Communication and training plans for members and others outside of the CoP
- An updated, dynamic roster of CoP members
- Several key metrics of success to show business results
- A recognition plan for participants
- An agenda of critical topics to cover for the first three to six months of existence
So are all ten really that important and that necessary? Well—yes. Even so, everyone has favorites right? I’ve got two: the value proposition (and its little brother the business case), and the recognition plan. As I’ve said before, tying the need for a CoP to the business needs should be step one. Fail to do that properly and you’ll soon experience your first sign of failure: crickets. Crickets in the sense of so little communication between CoP members that you can hear crickets in the quiet that is your community. Even if you provide visible mechanisms for sharing such as collaboration applications the electronic crickets will make their presence painfully known through old content and unrequited questions. So give your CoPs something to do; some goals—and make sure those goals do something for your organization.
Next, the recognition plan. So why should community members share their knowledge, learn from each other, and pass along their expertise? For the organization? While community designers and organization leaders would like that, tell me how it’s working for you in the absence of some type of reward or recognition for that behavior. I’ll bet it won’t be a lot of activity, and it certainly won’t be enough to satisfy the organization. So designing in the kinds of recognition that will answer the age old question of “what’s in it for me?” will go a long way to build in success of your communities. You may want people to share for the greater good of the community, but what you’ll find is that they’ll share when the good is for them. Fly in the face of this simple need and you’ll surely fail. Do you feel lucky and want to go against my advice? Go ahead, make my day.
So which are your favorites?
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