Paper Analysis – “Communities of Practice – What’s it like inside?”


Nickols, F. (n.d.). Communities of Practice What’s It Like Inside?


What is a Community of Practice?

A CoP is a group of people in the workplace marked by a certain set of characteristics:

  • A Practice
    • a “shared repertoire”or set of practices for doing that work – they define their own work
  • An Identity
    • CoP members typically develop their identities at work through their work and these identities often trigger membership of a CoP
  • A Joint Enterprise
    • the objective or mission they share

Four CoP Profiles:

  1. Division Financial Controllers:
    • Joint Enterprise: stewardship of the company’s finances
    • Shared Repertoire: the methods and procedures used by and developed by the members of the CoP
    • Identities at Work: Joanne’s reputation as a solid strategist and change manager; Greg’s reputation as a “master” of the financial system
  2. Application Development Groups:
    • Joint Enterprise: application programmers who design and develop computer-based applications
    • Shared Repertoire: the methods and procedures used by and developed by the members of the CoP, e.g.transfer of know-how through email, phone calls, quarterly staff meetings etc.
    • Identities at work: Jack as a lead programmer; Louise acknowledged as the “ace” when it comes to screen design
  3. Executive Assistants:
    • Joint Enterprise: to ensure that secretaries and administrative assistants who are promoted to EA’s quickly “learn the ropes”, especially the unstated ones
    • Shared Repertoire: the methods and procedures used by and developed by the members of the CoP, e.g. one-to-one interactions, face-to-face gatherings, twice yearly assembly of the EAs.
    • Identities at work: Joyce is an executive assistant to the VP of Planning and Development and she is also a member of the EA Advisory Group; Joyce and a handful of others as seen as the natural leaders of the EA Advisory group as they led the effort to continue it
  4. The Officers:
    • Joint Enterprise: grow market share
    • Shared Repertoire: the methods and procedures used by and developed by the members of the CoP, e.g. closer working relationship between the Operations group and the Systems Group, development of a small set of officers called “SysOps” who had the final say on matters that support product development
    • Identities at work: Janet is “the boss” to the people of operations and a solid operations chief and business person; Peter is viewed as an “empty suit” and is widely thought to be targeted for replacement; Gerry, the CEO, is regarded as a product development genius; Gwen has the expected legal background as Corporate Counsel, etc.

What’s it like inside a CoP? Am I a member of a CoP?

  1. What are some of the groups of which you were a member and in which the members all did roughly the same or similar work?
  2. What were the “shared repertoires” of those groups (i.e., what were the work routines, methods, tools and procedures they had in common)? What portion of those came from corporate training and methods groups and what portion had to be worked out on the job? How did those things get worked out on the job?
  3. Who were some of the “characters” in those groups? What was the work-related basis of their identities? What was your identity? Who was on the inside? Who was on the outside?
  4. For each of the groups you listed above, what was the group “up to” (i.e., what overarching purpose or mission gave them all a common goal or direction)?
  5. What did you learn while a member of that group? How did you learn it? What did others learn from you? How did they learn it?
  6. What was the relationship between the groups you listed above and the formal organizational structure in which those groups were embedded? How were the formal and informal aspects integrated? Where and how did the formal and informal organizations interface and dovetail? What went well and smoothly? Where were the bumpy spots?




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