Relevant to: Practice, Community
The focus on communities of practice (CoPs) as the core social unit where learning in organizations takes place has gained almost universal acceptance within the organizational learning discipline. In general, the argument goes that CoPs stimulate social learning by providing a suitable surrounding that is considered a fruitful breeding ground for learning. In this book chapter, Huysman argues that although we know a lot about CoPs contribution to learning within organizations, we know little about their contribution to learning by organizations or ‘organisational learning’. The author presents theoretical underpinnings to support her argument that CoPs facilitate social learning but at the same time frustrate organizational learning.
Organisational learning is different from social learning in that the former needs objectification of the outcome of the latter. Through knowledge sharing, individual knowledge may become shared knowledge that might in turn become taken-for-granted, tacit organizational knowledge. Organisational learning then can be viewed as a process of knowledge institutionalization.
Two general tendencies are identified that are inherent to communities but might obstruct or hinder organizational learning. These are the tendency of CoPs to be less visible and consequently ignored by management and the tendency of CoPs to be unconscious of their own tacit knowledge. It is only when this tacit knowledge, shared among CoP members, becomes explicit and is shared outside the CoP that organizational learning can take place.
This book chapter provides a cautionary note on the perceived benefits of CoPs.
This summary was developed from the following book chapter:
Huysman M. (2004) ‘Communities of practice: Facilitating social learning while frustrating organizational learning’. In H. Tsoukas, and N. Mylonopoulos (eds) Organisations as knowledge systems. Palgrave Macmillan, Hampshire.