Reflections on ‘change communities’


After a super full client facing day, now staring a pile of client work in the face I give you my 6 am thoughts 9that I sent in an email to a colleague yesterday) on communities of practice and where Sea Salt fits with that theory.

This isn’t cheating! It’s prototyping…

See the featured image as I #WOL my thoughts and understanding about what we, as a Sea Salt team, have to offer in terms of communities, their formation and lifecycle. What came out of my reflection is that we deal specifically with change communities, forming and nurturing communities whose purpose is transformative. This ties into common understanding we in the ‘biz’ have about COPs as well as transformative learning.

The term ‘communities of practice’ is generally attributed to Wenger

My thoughts: In general, the idea is that people in a community of practice engage with each other in productive ways. The goal is that the community is a network that is formed around a certain subject or idea and works together in ways that advance it. People involved with a community of practice will perhaps collaborate on projects or articles on their topic, motivated by the community to do so.

Certain caveats: the community is not explicit, in the sense that there is no mandate to produce from any one person or group in the community. Rather, people gain energy and motivation from being in contact with others who share the same interests. Little by little, over time, these people will work together to further their understanding of and share their work on their subject.

There are known challenges to the concept of communities of practice. These are communities that form naturally, through trusting relationships between people. Organizations who see the potential of this concept for their own purpose run the risk of failing, as the organization’s goals are that people produce for the organization. This is where Julian’s message of letting go of control is important. An organization can provide the space for a community to form, however it is its members who drive it. From there comes the age old question: how do we drive engagement? We don’t. If the community is engaging, people will be a part of it.

Wenger talks about the lifecycle of a community. He thinks that it takes about five years for a community of practice to begin to produce knowledge. The reason for this is that in ‘the wild’, it takes time to get to know each other, build trust, find people who are on the same wavelength, build a common understanding and work together.

Where Sea Salt comes in: There are certain things an organization can do to ‘kickstart’ the process (and as an example, we saw this happen during the Safari), namely to design opportunities for people to interact which allows them to work in collaborative ways. One advantage an organization has in fostering communities is that people in an organization will tend to have common interests and fields of expertise. The job of finding each other is simplified. The organizations job is to then put people together, design opportunities for them to work collaboratively, and step back (in the simplest terms, of course it is a bit more complicated than that! The design is a fine and delicate, entirely behind the scenes process that takes experimentation and refinement over several iterations to discover what works).

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