Communities of Practice – What I’ve Learnt

Communities of Practice – What I’ve Learnt

Ants collaborating

I  was recently asked  by a colleague to share some “words of wisdom” about what I’d learnt from 9 years of consultancy projects that involved setting up Communities of Practice. I could have written an essay on this topic (and maybe one day I will) but I thought I’d distill it down to the key points as follows:

The Basics:

  • We don’t know what we don’t know.
  • People don’t learn from content, they learn from other people.
  • You can’t force people to collaborate.
  • We don’t know the value of knowledge…until it is shared.
  • Find where the conversations are happening….and join in!
  • A successful CoP must be cultivated; it needs feeding, weeding and nurturing (just like a well-tended garden!).

What makes for a successful CoP:

  •  A clear purpose – what will it be used to do?
  • A safe and trusted environment.
  • A core group of active participants.
  • Understanding the needs of its members/users.
  • An action plan to meet those needs.
  • A blend of face to face and online activities (where possible).


  • Command and control will kill a community.
  • Don’t assume everyone knows how to contribute.
  • Let users drive their own experimentation and use of tools.
  • Ensure CoP facilitators/moderators are given sufficient time for their role.
  • Without active facilitation, CoPs will revert to ‘tribal’ working.
  • Don’t worry about the ‘lurkers’ – be happy that they have chosen to be there.
  • Don’t set unrealistic targets.
  • Condition your managers for failure; not every CoP is going to be successful.
  • Know when to let go!

Finally, one of my favourite quotes:

Go to the people, live with them, learn from them. Start with what they know, build with what they have.

But with the best leaders, when the work is done and the task is accomplished, the people will say ‘We have done this ourselves'”.  Lao Tsu, circa 500BC

If you want to know more, check my various slide packs on this topic on Slideshare. Happy CoP’ing!


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