I was reminded earlier this week of an event in 2000 when I was working for SMS consulting that demonstrated the dramatic and adverse impact that inappropriate management can have on a community of practice.
A small group of consultants interested in knowledge management had started meeting regularly and over several years the group had expanded to include members in all other SMS offices. While the company provided support in terms of facilities, beverages, food and permission, we were for a long time just tolerated rather than valued. When the company realised that knowledge management had business potential and that their little CoP had developed methodologies, presentations, business development materials and had in fact completed a few projects, they decided to take this KM stuff seriously. So, they appointed a manager to ‘oversee’ the activities of the group. At his first meeting, the manager advised us to stop developing these materials and our new priorities were to be the development of a business case to justify our continued existence and a document development schedule. We were thrilled – NOT! As soon as we started making a difference we were to be diverted from work that contributed to our practice of KM. The next week most of the group didn’t turn up - same the week after. Fortunately, after a ‘either he goes or we go’ chat with the regional director, the new ‘oversight’ arrangements were removed.
This experience is evidence of an APQC finding that “management can hamper or kill a community, but it cannot make it thrive”. It demonstrates that management intervention needs to be carefully handled and that there is always a delicate balance between member value and organisational value.
1. ‘Building and Sustaining Communities of Practice’ APQC Report, 2001, p9.