Networks and Communities enhance the mobilization and sharing of knowledge across “silos” (i.e. distinct units within and between organizations). Capable organizations strive to stimulate networks and encourage staff to be part of “boundary-spanning” groups to share expertise and ideas and to generate new knowledge.
All effective leaders have networks of various types. These networks contact each other to share experiential learning and act as each other’s sounding boards, devil’s advocates and problem-solvers. Research shows that even if organizations have great storage and retrieval systems, people still go to people for context, conversation and a sense of how current and reliable information is (see, for example, Cross et al. 2001, pp. 100–112). Often a person can quickly reach others with appropriate expertise, and trusts them because they are recommended through a colleague. In this way, one might discover that work has already been done and so there is no need to “reinvent the wheel.”
Communities of practice (CoPs) are one such network. They are relatively nimble and responsive and can be used for rapid learning across boundaries. In BP, these are the glue that holds different systems in the corporation together. The BC Forest Service also includes a number of strategies to stimulate networks in order to move knowledge quickly across the silos.
Organizations can also support developing expertise networks through business processes and technologies. For example, an expertise locator can be used to identify specialized knowledge that may not be visible in a job description.
The assessment questions: Networks and Community
In this capability area, the questions help organizations assess the extent to which networks and communities are becoming a way of doing business – that is, emerging in response to business needs and effective in sharing and generating knowledge and specialized expertise.
Both senior and middle managers should consider these questions:
- Do employees with expertise and in need of expertise participate in cross-boundary groups and form networks to generate and share knowledge?
- Do groups such as communities of practices actively manage knowledge (sometimes explicit, such as body of knowledge repositories; and sometimes tacit, such as relationship-building and cross-boundary problem-solving)?
- Do you have well-used technology such as an expertise locator or searchable personnel websites to support learning and access to experts?
- Do you include outside experts such as retirees, stakeholders, customers and researchers in your work on a regular basis to improve outcomes and learning?
- Do you have policies in place guiding the sharing of knowledge in these communities? (e.g. intellectual property, confidentiality and privacy considerations)