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Why do Communities of Practice fail?

I've been writing a series of articles on the three maturity levels we see at companies using social technologies. The three levels are:

Reaching people - People primarily use the platform to push information to others. The biggest benefit is the increased reach compared to other channels.

Leveraging the network* - People understand the potential of the network and use it to their advantage to tap into the vaste intellectual resource made available through that network.

Faster and more agile - People adopt concepts such as Working out loud or Working in the narrative. The collective awareness increases as does the alignment in the organisation. The rate of decision making increases and the company becomes faster and more agile.

*This used to be 'Becoming smarter' but working with Ana Jauregui from Nestlé made us realised that you become smarter because you are able to leverage the network.

A lot of companies get stuck with enterprise social networks where they either stall in adoption or become overly social. In 99% of the cases the reason for stalling is that they haven't gotten past the first maturity level and are not creating sufficient value.

Previous articles discussed:

This article deals with communities of practice.

Communities of practice

Communities of Practice (CoP) are groups of people that connect because of an interest or job role. Most often their purpose is to share knowledge, create best practice, connect, and innovate.

Many CoPs fail over time as their maturity remains low and they fail to remain relevant for their members over a longer period of time.

Reaching people

At the lowest maturity level members of CoPs share articles, success stories, work produced by themselves, or other forms of self promotion. In the beginning enthusiasm is high, but the relevance of the content to people’s work diminishes fast and the CoPs become silent.

Leveraging the network

People also start to see the value of the audience as a production factor. Members starts to involve others in solving problems by asking questions in the CoP. The seize of this type of activity is a good indication of the health of a CoP and the value it creates. The more questions asked, the higher the value being created for it's members.

Faster and more agile

A mature CoP has agreement on a topic agenda. They have agreed to collaborate on specific pieces of knowledge over specific periods of time. For example a group production managers might co-create a best practice to keep inventory levels as low as possible in May and another best practice in June. Having an agenda ensures there is a defined and valuable deliverable, the group has focus, and the group sets priorities.

Besides this shared topic agenda individual member use the group to crowdsource pieces of their work by tapping in to the knowledge of their peers.


The longer term value and vibrancy of communities of practice depend on the number of questions members ask each other and the structural collective value creation the group undertakes. Groups with a lot of self promotion will not be long lived.

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