Leadership styles and Communities of Practice
Does leadership style affect Community of Practice effectiveness?
But what of the leadership style applied to the CoP? Can the executive sponsor, or community leader, or other influential champion of a CoP be an autocrat when it comes to managing the community? Must a community leader be collaborative, participative, sensing, and so on, in order for the community to function effectively? Read: the rest.
As Ron notes earlier in his post, Community of Practices (CoP) are meant to create a democratic, egalitarian environment. I recall a discussion on one of my KM lists not so long ago as to what differentiates a project team from a CoP (particulary when describing internal groups). I would postulate that an internal group cannot develop into a CoP under autocratic leadership. I would question any group's ability to develop into a CoP if they are not free to share, make mistakes and learn. Thus, even your less autocratic but still authoritarian cultures will have difficulty developing internal CoPs. Of course senior management attitudes will vary depending upon the group of employees and it is possible that specific groups could develop into a viable CoP. However, note that the management attitude would still need to be more liberal toward this specific group.
Bulletin boards are a great example of a tool that can be used by a project group or a CoP. Many bulletin boards (and blog comment tools) have a setting for moderation. I have experienced debate over how much moderation might affect dialog and how much moderation is effective in several forums. The style of moderation would reflect the style of group leadership. If members are strictly constrained in their posting to simply commenting upon the linked object or project and not about concepts and ideas — the discussion benefits only that particular project and not the greater good of the participants and/or team and/or organization.
One bulletin board failure I experienced failed because management insisted upon heavily censoring topical discussion posts. These message boards were set up to provide a space for employees to ask questions about specific topics. These were not related to organizational projects. So, without this linkage this was not a project team communication forum. Anyone could (as far as the technology set up) post a question or answer. Only specifc Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) could post a summary and close and archive the thread. Thus, from a technological stand point we provided a fairly egalitarian environment in hopes of developing CoPs.
However, leadership style affected our outcome dramatically. Rather than seize a teaching opportunity, they removed any posts they saw as incomplete or incorrect. The really sad thing about this is that it demonstrates how clueless organizational senior management can be about the informal lines of communication and status. The same person who posted the censored post will simply return to verbally telling their peers the incorrect or incomplete information. So knowledge sharing among peers is still occuring just not in a way that will benefit other groups and future queries and can not inform employee education.
I found Ron's post via Jack Vinsen's blog