Dynamics of Knowledge Sharing Communities

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Dynamics of
Knowledge Sharing
Communities


An Overview





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Colophon

Date :

February 20, 2001

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Delft University of Technology

Author(s) :

Prof.dr. J.H. Erik Andriessen

Drs. Maura Soekijad

Drs. Mirjam Huis in 't Veld

Drs. Jan J. Poot

Synopsi s:





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V

Preface

New business models in

the area of network organisations or virtual enterprises are all
highly dependent on interaction and collaboration between geographically distributed
individuals and groups. Distributed groups will form essential elements in future
business models and the
y will be important for organisational innovation. Their
functioning is the glue that keeps network organisations together, they are the places
where essential knowledge is exchanged and new knowledge is created.

In the context of the research project
"Kno
wledge Sharing in Telematics
Supported Distributed Teams and Communities of Networked Organisations
(COMMSHARE)."

study is made of the above mentioned topics. In this report we first
analyse the concept of 'knowledge sharing communities' (also called 'comm
unities of
practice') from a theoretical and a practical perspective. It appears that both in theory and
practice widely divergent perspectives concerning these communities can be found. The
concept of communities is applied to groups that differ strongly
in terms of size,
composition, purpose and role.

Conditions for success of knowledge sharing communities are derived on the one hand
from comparing communities to taskteams and on the other hand from a few case studies.

In the conclusion some questions co
ncerning communities are highlighted and
suggestions are made for research in this field. In the coming period we will explore this
topic further within the COMMSHARE project, which is part of the Telematics Institute
sponsored program 'Telematics Innovati
on in the Networked Economy'.




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VII

Table of Contents

1

I nt roducti on

1

2

Knowl edge sha ri ng and group i nte racti on

3

2.1

Knowl edge management

3

2.2

Teams and groupdynamics

4

3

Vari ous per spe cti ve s on the conce pt of 'communi ty'

8

3.1

Theoret i cal perspect i ves on communi ti es and l earni ng

8

3.2

Di sti nct
i ons bet ween and comparisons of communit i es

10

3.3.

Concl usi ons

15

4

Communi ti e s: some exampl e s fr om practi ce

16

4.1

Shel l

16

4.2

Si emen
s

17

4.3

BP Amoco

18

4.4

Uni l ever

21

5

Condi ti ons for conti nui t y and succe ss

22

5.1

Condi t i ons: model

22

5
.2

Condi t i ons: The i nput fact ors

25

5.2.1

Goal and Task

25

5.2.2.

Personal charact erist ics

26

5.2.3. Formal st ruct ure

26

5.2.4

Technol og
y

29

5.2.5

Organi sati onal envi ronment

30

5.3

Condi t i ons: Int eract i on processes

31

5.3.1

Communi cati on

31

5.3.2

Co
-
operat i on

31

5.3.3

Co
-
ordi nat i on

32

5.3.4

Soci al i nt eracti on

32

5.3.5

Learni ng (processes)

32

5.3.6

Team devel opment (l i fecycl e)

32

5.4

Condi t i ons: Outcomes

34

5.4.1

Organi sati onal out comes

34

5.4.2

Group out comes

35

5.4.3

Indi vi dual outcomes

35

6

Di l emma's

36

7

Concl usi ons: a re sear ch agenda

38

Refe rence s

42

I ndex

49



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1


Introduction

“In a number of technologically advanced industries, a new logic

of organising
is developing. Rather than viewing firms as vehicles for processing information,
making decisions, and solving problems, the core capabilities of organisations
are based increasingly on knowledge seeking and knowledge
-
creation. In
technologi
cally intensive fields, where there are large gains from innovation and
steep losses from obsolescence, competition is best regarded as a learning race.
The ability to learn about new opportunities requires participation in them, thus
a wide range of inter
-
organisational linkages is critical to knowledge diffusion,
learning and technology development"


(Powell, 1998: 228).


New business models in the area of network organisations or virtual enterprises are all
highly dependent on interaction and collaborati
on between geographically distributed
individuals and groups. Distributed management teams, design groups or communities of
interests will form essential elements in future business models and in organisational
innovation. Their functioning is the glue tha
t keeps network organisations together, but,
more important, they are the places where essential knowledge is exchanged and new
knowledge is created. Successful exchange of knowledge in globalised organisations
however often requires technological support.


These issues are the rationale for the research project
'Knowledge Sharing in
Telematics Supported Distributed Teams and Communities of Networked Organisations"
(COMMSHARE). This project is part of the Telematics Institute research program
'
Telematics in
novation in the Networked Economy'
(TINE).

The research objectives of COMMSHARE are the following:



To develop theoretical insights into the phenomena of 'Knowledge Sharing
Communities' in comparison with task teams.



To identify central dimensions for char
acterising types of communities.



To identify conditions for continuity and effectiveness of communities, and
particularly the conditional role of telematic applications.



To develop guidelines for the design and maintenance of technological and
organisation
al support.

This document contributes to these objectives by identifying certain aspects of the
issues at hand, on the basis of a literature search and some practical experiences. The
concept of 'Communities' is of recent origin and hardly studied in a sys
tematic way. This
implies that publications are scarce, particularly those based on empirical research in
2

T E L E M A T I C A I N S T I T U U T

organisations. In the following chapters the results of literature search, empirical studies
and stories around Communities are combined to form a fir
st impression. To clarify this
still fuzzy picture it is related to what is known from the area of taskteams.

In this report first an introduction will be given in certain concepts in the area of
knowledge management. Then several kinds of groups will be d
istinguished, since
groups are potential vehicles for sharing knowledge. In the current research project, a
particular type of group, i.e. 'communities' will receive the most attention. Therefore in
Chapter three theoretical perspectives on communities, an
d distinctions between different
types of communities will be discussed. This theoretical discussion will be followed by
some examples from practice. Chapter five will deal with the conditions for continuity
and success of communities and chapter six with
the dilemma's when facilitating
communities. The last chapter contains conclusions and a research agenda.




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2


Knowledge sharing and group interaction

In this chapter firstly a general framework is presented concerning knowledge
management, which is followed

by a discussion of groups, as a vehicle for sharing
knowledge will be discussed.


2.1

Knowl edge management


The COMMSHARE project builds on the results of an earlier project in the area of
Knowledge Management (Huysman & De Wit, 2000). The objective of this p
roject was
to find conditions of operational success of knowledge sharing initiatives supported by
ICT. First three perspectives on knowledge management were identified.

Knowledge management as a technique (stock approach)

In this stock approach the stor
age of knowledge is emphasised. Knowledge is stored in a
systematic way so it can be used as a 'resource' and in this way shared by many people.
Presupposition is here that it is possible to make knowledge explicit.

Knowledge as a process (or flow)

Here
the accent lies on knowledge transfer (flow) via personal contacts instead of via
storage of knowledge (stock). It is acknowledged that knowledge is more than just
information, for it also comprises experiences, competencies and insights. Therefore it is
i
mportant to have intensive networks of people within the organisation.

Knowledge as intellectual capital (intellectual capital approach)

The aim here is to make the added value of knowledge explicit for the enterprise. This
intellectual capital consists
of structural capital, infrastructure and human capital, which
is the knowledge of the employees. Structural capital in this view is an enabler for the
human capital and therefore effort is made to build this structural capital.

Huysman and De Wit propose
to integrate these three views into the notion of
organisational learning. Organisational learning concerns different ways and levels of
knowledge sharing. And knowledge management is about managing knowledge sharing
processes.

4

T E L E M A T I C A I N S T I T U U T

Figure 1. Organisational le
arning process


The authors distinguish three categories of knowledge sharing (see figure 1.).
Different learning processes link these categories. The first one is knowledge acquisition
from external or internal sources of the company to the individual emp
loyees. Then,
there is knowledge exchange among several of these individuals. Finally this knowledge
exchange can create new knowledge for the organisation. But before knowledge can
become organisational knowledge, it must be collectively accepted.

The stu
dy presents empirical evidence that a major success factor of effective
knowledge management and of innovation is to be found in knowledge sharing
'communities of interest' or 'communities of practice'. These types of communities can be
found in several la
rge companies. The dynamics of such communities and the conditions
for their continuity and creative productivity are not clear yet. In one of the
multinationals Huysman and de Wit studied, some communities are functioning
successfully, while others less s
o. Project management issues, task specificity and ICT
support aspects seem to play an important role.

The COMMSHARE project focuses particularly on the conditions for the
successful exchange of knowledge in
-
groups such as communities. The next sections w
ill
discuss some aspects of groups in general and communities in particular, which are
important for a better understanding of the phenomena at stake.


2.2

Teams and groupdynami cs


Teams and communities are types of groups, which have much in common, but w
hich
also differ in certain aspects. In this section the nature of various types of groups will be
indicated.
McGrath (1984), a well known social psychologist, defines a group as
"an
Individual
knowledge

Organisational
knowledge

Shared
Knowledge

External
knowledge

Collective Acceptance
acceptance

Acquire
Coll
ect

Exchange
ee

Acquire

Collect



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intact social system that carries out multiple functions, while partially

nested in and
loosely coupled to surrounding systems"
. This definition can comprise many types of
collections of people. It refers not only to workgroups but also to other collections of
individuals such as friendship groups, to professional colleagues or

to people interested
in a certain subject (communities).

When a number of people explicitly co
-
operate towards a certain common goal,
they are often called a team. Guzzo and Dickson (1996) point to additional
characteristics in their comprehensive defini
tion of work groups: "
A work group is made
up of individuals who see themselves and who are seen by others as a social entity, who
are interdependent because of the tasks they perform as members of a group, who are
embedded in one or more larger social sys
tems (e.g. community, organisation) and who
perform tasks that affect others (such as customers or co
-
workers)".

Through this definition the concepts of ‘team’ and ‘workgroup’ become similar,
but are differentiated from the general concept of group as def
ined above by McGrath. In
literature certain distinctive characteristics of teams are mentioned (e.g. McGrath, 1984;
Busch et al. 1991; Guzzo and Dickson, 1996), such as having common goal and tasks,
and having a formalised structure in terms of co
-
ordinat
ion, procedures etc.

Permanent membership and space or time boundaries are not essential.
Membership can change, and some groups are widely distributed geographically. Some
are (semi
-
) permanent and others are established for a short period. And an upper
limit to
size is also difficult to establish, particularly in view of modern communication media.

Actually, the difference between close
-
knit teams and loosely coupled groups is
not a black and white one. All above
-
mentioned characteristics can vary subst
antially,
resulting in a wide range of more or less coupled groups. The more people have a
common task, the more permanent and formal their group membership, the smaller the
number of people and the longer and more often they interact, the more it is consi
dered
to be a real task oriented team. This can also be described with the concept of groupness.
'Groupness' should be considered as a (multi
-
dimensional) variable
: some collections
have more characteristics of a team, others less (see also Giddens, 1984:
377). As an
example, air flight crews have high groupness, low groupness is found in many
committees.

The 'groupness' dimension implies that the context of the group also can vary. A
tightly knit task team probably develops its own structure and is clearly

segregated from
its environment. Its culture can be quite different from the surrounding organisational
culture or from other group cultures, as is sharply illustrated by the well
-
known
differences in values between marketing, production and R&D
-
departmen
ts. In loosely
coupled communities it may be more difficult to speak of a clear group structure or group
culture.

Summarising, the concept of 'groupness' theoretically implies an almost infinite
number of structures. For simplicity's sake three types of co
-
operative (work) settings
can be distinguished, with an increasing level of 'groupness':

A.
Collections
: loosely coupled individuals that exchange information. Their membership
and commonality of interests may be rather vague. Vast numbers of people can
be
involved, such as the thousands of users of the Intranet in large companies.

6

T E L E M A T I C A I N S T I T U U T

B.
Communities
: a number of people that have a common interest and therefore interact
over a period of time. Many newsgroups on the Internet are formed around common
hobbies or

other interests. Some companies stimulate the generation of distributed groups
of professionals that have a common field of expertise, to exchange existing and develop
new knowledge.

C.
Teams

(task forces, committees): a small group of people with a comm
on goal and a
clear degree of (formal) structure, interdependence and duration.

In the next chapter the concept of 'community' will be explored and the
distinctions between teams and various communities further analysed.




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8

T E L E M A T I C A I N S T I T U U T

3

Various perspectives on the conce
pt of 'community'


Palo Alto Research Centre (PARC) and the Institute for Research on Learning (IRL)
started, in a sense, the ‘knowledge revolution’ in the 1980s. Together they
“developed a
methodology that they call ‘phased interactive learning’ to unders
tand how learning
occurs and knowledge becomes shared within communities of practice. By distinguishing
those informal groups, Wenger allowed us to ‘see differently’, to understand where and
how learning and knowledge is created and disseminated within gro
ups and
communities”

(Botkin, 1999: 216). In this chapter we start with explaining perspectives
of some of the involved researchers at PARC and IRL and others, after which we discuss
what several authors have written about communities. Chapter four will de
scribe
communities that can be found in several large companies


3.1

Theoreti cal perspecti ve s on communi ti es and l earni ng


In the 1980s organisations became increasingly interested in issues concerning the
‘management’ of the knowledge asset for several re
asons, such as the integration of
distributed knowledge (globalisation), innovation, ‘control’ of expertise and competence
of (job
-
hopping) employees. Further, knowledge sharing for training apprentices, and for
satisfying the individual need for knowledge

acquisition (learning) seems to be important
motives too, all in order to keep ahead of competitors. From the organisational learning
point of view it is suggested that, in contrast to learning in formal training settings,
learning often occurs as a funct
ion of the activity, context and culture in which it occurs.
Thus, much learning is ‘situated learning’, where social interaction is critical.
“In fact
one never gets to see organisational learning divorced either from the phenomena of a
behavioural world
in which individuals live with one another or from the political,
win/lose games of control, evasion, and dominance in which most organisations
abound…”

(Schön in Morgan, 1983: 128). Before we will show that communities can
provide this 'embeddedness' (a u
seful context in which people in
-
groups learn), we will
first explain how the concept of learning in
-
groups has developed recently.

In their book on situated learning, Lave and Wenger (1991) “
undertake a radical
and important rethinking and reformulation o
f our conception of learning. By placing
emphasis on the whole person, and by viewing agent, activity and world as mutually
constitutive, they give us the opportunity to escape from the tyranny of the assumption
that learning is the reception of factual kn
owledge or information. The authors argue
that most accounts of learning have ignored its quintessentially social character.”
(cover). They feel that learning can only be done by the legitimate peripheral
participation in communities of practice. This part
icipation will gradually become more
engaged and complex.

Lave and Wenger thus develop the concept of Legitimate Peripheral Participation
(LPP).
“Legitimate peripheral participation provides a way to speak about relations


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between newcomers and old timers a
nd about activities, identities, artifacts, and
communities of knowledge and practice”

(Lave & Wenger, 1991: 29).
Legitimation
refers to the fact that that members of a community have a certain 'clarity' concerning
their identity (whether they belong to th
e community). This is not necessarily made
formal, however. The
periphery
of a practice “
is thus a region that is neither fully inside
nor fully outside, and surrounds the practice with a degree of permeability. Professional
communities of practice, for in
stance, often organise themselves to let outsiders in, to
some extent”

(Wenger, 1998a: 117).

In the center are the more experienced members of
the practice (experts). They often are quite active members, while the ‘rookies’ in the
periphery, who are learni
ng from the 'experts', are more passive, sometimes even called
‘lurkers’. (McDermott, 1999a). Thus, several levels of commitment exist. The term
participation
is used

“to describe the social experience of living in the world in terms of
membership in socia
l communities and active involvement in social enterprises.
Participation in this sense is both personal and social. It is a complex process that
combines doing, talking, thinking, feeling and belonging. (…) Participation is an active
process, but I will r
eserve the term for actors who are members of social communities.”

(Wenger, 1998a: 55).

The concept of LPP emphasises at least three aspects. First, the (long
-
term)
reproduction processes of the community itself. Second the gradual process of evolving
iden
tity from apprenticeship (new comer) to full practitioner (old timer), from the
periphery to the core of the practice. This development is viewed as fundamental to the
concept LPP. And third, the enduring strains inherent in the continuity
-
displacement
con
tradiction. This is the tension between the community reproducing itself as a living
entity, while on the other hand displacing (and replacing) its members, the 'old timers'.

This continuity
-
displacement dilemma, together with the concept of learning
throu
gh apprenticeships, is central in Lave and Wenger's discussion. Further, boundaries
are an important issue here as well. The idea of 'social closure' involves the system of
'enclosure' or belonging of members. Thus, a distinction of in
-
group and out
-
group
can
be made. People can follow a 'rite de passage' to become a 'full member' of a community.

In accordance with Lave and Wenger, Brown and Duguid (1991) also emphasise
the situated aspect of learning. They state this is important because formal description
s
of work (e.g., 'office procedures') and of learning (e.g., 'subject matter') are often
abstracted from actual practice. As a result education, training and technology design,
generally focus on abstract representations to the damage, if not exclusion, of

actual
practice.

Many organisations are willing to assume that complex tasks can be successfully
mapped onto a set of simple Tayloristic, formalised steps that can be followed without
need of significant understanding or insight (and thus without need of

significant
investment in training or skilled technicians). By relying on formal descriptions,
managers develop a conceptual view that cannot comprehend the importance of non
-
formal practices. In the case that Brown and Duguid describe, the burden of maki
ng up
the difference between what is formal descriptions and what is needed (non
-
formal
practices) then rests with the employees, who in bridging the gap actually protect the
organisation from its own short
-
sightedness. If the employees adhere to the forma
l
approach, their corporation's services will be in chaos. The employees therefore develop
sophisticated non
-
formal practices.

10

T E L E M A T I C A I N S T I T U U T

Brown and Duguid (2000) further propose that knowledge has a tendency of
being 'sticky' on the one hand and 'leaky' on the other
. Sticky refers to the challenge of
transferring knowledge within the organisation (thus, sometimes knowledge 'sticks' with
a person or group of people and cannot be 'transferred' easily internally),

w
hile leakiness
is more about the undesirable flow of kn
owledge out of the organisation. They suggest
that in using the perspective of 'practice' the internal communal divisions
"help explain
stickiness
[within this communities]
, while the external connections help explain the
leakiness"

(p. 25). They further c
onclude that an organisation may probably best be
structured around knowledge and practice in order to improve its innovative potential. As
Henschel states about organisational knowledge:
"What an organisation knows, however,
is what’s embedded in and amon
g its Communities of Practice"
(Botkin, 1999: 240)
.

Summing up, central in all the ideas is the concept of 'practices', around which
communities build, acquire, and create their knowledge. This is not theoretical
knowledge, but knowledge related to a comm
on practice such as a professional
discipline, a skill or a topic (McDermott, 1999a: 3). Sharing knowledge in a community
will build or enrich a (set of) common practice(s). A community builds capability in its
practice by developing a shared repertoire an
d resources such as tools, documents,
routines, vocabulary, stories, symbols, artefacts, heroes, etc., that embody the
accumulated knowledge of the community. This shared repertoire serves as a foundation
for future learning (Allee, 2000).


However, around

this common theme, various types of communities can be
identified. In the following section we first present some literature concerning the
difference between communities and structures such as teams and functional units.
Secondly, various forms of commun
ities as discussed in the literature, will be described
and compared. In chapter four we present some communities as found in four large
organistions: at Shell, Unilever, Siemens and BP Amoco.


3.2

Di sti ncti ons between and compari sons of communi ti es


In th
eir work Lave and Wenger describe a CoP
"as an intrinsic condition for the
existence of knowledge".

Botkin (1999: 241) defines CoPs as
"highly informal groups of
people that develop a shared way of working together to accomplish some activity.
Usually such

communities include people with varying roles and experience. (…) They
are also the place where people tend to learn the essentials of their jobs”
.

According to Manville and Foote (1996) a CoP is
"a group of professionals
informally bound to one another
through exposure to a common class of problems,
common pursuit of solutions, and thereby themselves embodying a store of knowledge
".
Brown and Solomon Gray (1998) add that the community is small and the professionals
have worked together over a period of t
ime. Communities are different from a team, a
task force, and an authorised or identified group.
"They are peers in the execution of 'real
work'. What holds them together is a common sense of purposes and a real need to know
what each other knows"
. Some re
fer to this latter as shared expertise and passion for a
joint enterprise.




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Tessun (2000) simply states that
"a CoP is a group of experts who meet on a
regular base related to a specific topic".

He distinguishes CoPs from other types of
groupings, referri
ng to the classification of Wenger and Snyder (2000), as shown in table
1.



CoPs

Functional
Units (formal
work group)

Project Teams

Informal
Networks

Purpose

Develop
capability

Produce an
output

Accomplish a
specific task

Disseminate
information

Bounda
ry

Knowledge
domain

Market, product
or function

Assigned charter

Scope of
relationships

Connection

Identity

Reporting
relationships

Commitment to
goal

Interpersonal
acquaintance

Time Scale

Enduring

Enduring

Temporary

Variable

Table 1. Comparison of vari
ous grouping (Wenger & Snyder, 2000)


McDermott (1999c) also identifies several characteristics of CoPs, in comparison
to those of teams (see table 2)

12

T E L E M A T I C A I N S T I T U U T


Teams

CoPs

Driven by deliverables

Driven by value

Shared goals and results

Shared interest or practic
e

Value defined by charter

Value discovered / evolves

Value in result delivered

Value in ongoing process

Defined by task

Defined by knowledge

Interdependent tasks

Interdependent knowledge

Clear boundaries

Permeable boundaries

Develops through a workp
lan

Develops organically

Everyone contributes

Variable contributions

Managed through objectives and workplan

Managed by making connections

Table 2. Teams and CoPs (McDermott, 1999c)

McDermott states:
"Teams are tightly integrated units driven by deliver
ables,
defined by managed tasks, and bound together by members’ collective commitment to
results. Communities of practice are loosely knit groups driven by the value they provide
to members, defined by the opportunities to learn and share what they discove
r and
bounded by the sense of collective identity the members form."

Communities are driven by the value they provide to individual members while a
team delivers value in the result it produces. The next thing is that the set of
interdependent tasks that
leads to an objective forms the heart of a team, while in the
community the heart is formed by the shared knowledge.

McDermott further states that teams progress by moving through a workplan,
while communities develop by discovering new areas to share cur
rent knowledge and
develop new knowledge. That is why managing these two groups is a very different job.
Managing a team consists of co
-
ordinating interdependent tasks. Managing a community
is making connections between members and keeping the topics of th
e community fresh
and valuable.

The definitions and descriptions all have some common elements


knowledge
sharing in a specific domain


but also refer to different elements: the one to
professionals, the other to experts, a third to regular meeting, a f
ourth to the fact that
communities are informal. The discussion is complicated by the fact that different names
can be found for concepts or constellations, which are similar to CoPs, such as virtual
communities, knowledge communities, and occupational com
munities. In this document
we will focus on the characteristics along which communities can diverge, instead of


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using the various names themselves. Consequently we will use the term 'communities' or
'knowledge sharing communities', without preference for a

particular type. Communities
can vary along dimensions such as intraorganisational
-

interorganisational, closed
boundaries
-

permeable boundaries, double loop learning
-

single loop learning, high
virtuality
-

low virtuality, and high 'groupness'
-

low '
groupness'; etc. In the following
sections various authors in this field will be discussed in terms of these and other
dimensions.

Brown and Duguid (2000) distinguish what they call 'Communities of Practice’
(CoPs) and ‘Networks of Practice’ (NoPs). The l
atter consist of members from various
organisations and are much larger (but with less 'reciprocity', i.e. interaction) than CoPs
that are internally focused, tight
-
knit groups who work together on the same or similar
tasks. Thus, people know each other, w
hich results in high reciprocity. NoPs work on a
similar domain, but may never meet, don't take action and produce little (creative)
knowledge. NoPs are comparable to the 'occupational groups' of van Maanen and Barley
(1984). “
Occupational communities repr
esent bounded work cultures populated by
people who share similar identities and values that transcend specific organisational
settings. Moreover, self
-
control is a prominent cultural theme in all occupational
communities, although its realisation is highl
y problematic”

(van Maanen and Barley
1984: 314
-
15). Thus, NoPs and CoPs differ on the dimensions of groupness, being intra
-

or extra organisational, and intensity of interaction.


Another characteristic for classification of communities can be found in th
e
degree of virtuality
, i.e. in the degree to which a community meets face to face or co
-
operates at a distance, supported by ICT applications. ICT facilitation is central in the
theory on virtual communities (Mynatt et. al., 1997; Jansen, Jägers & Steenba
kkers,
2000; Hildreth, Kimble & Wright, 2000). Virtual communities can be found not only in
organisations but also on the Internet, focussing on a certain interest (hobby, e.g.) on
political (discussion platforms) or social issues (e.g. the arthritis commu
nity) (see van
den Boomen, 2000). In practice however, most communities in organisations do prefer a
certain degree of face
-
to
-
face meeting (as can be seen in Chapter four). As Davenport
says:
“Electronic networks are weak
-
tie, in stead of strong
-
tie netwo
rks”
.

Collison from BP Amoco (2000) distinguishes three types of networks,
Communities of Interest (CoIs), Communities of Commitment (CoCs) and Communities
of Practice (CoPs). The difference between the latter two is explained in terms of the two
dimension
s
formality

and
contract value
, i.e. the degree to which the community has to
deliver concrete results. CoPs have low formality and contract value, while CoC's have
high formality and contract value.



Low contracted value

High contracted value

High form
ality


CoC (delivery network)

Low formality

CoP (enabling network)


Table 3. CoP and CoC (Collison, 2000)

According to this characterisation, CoC's are close to teams and workgroups.

14

T E L E M A T I C A I N S T I T U U T

Allee (2000) distinguishes various grouping according to two related d
imensions,
i.e.
'relationships'
, from simple to complex; and
'connectivity'
, from tight to loose (see
table 4



Simple
------

Relationships

-------

Complex








Business
networks

Loose





Knowledg
e networks






Extended
CoPs



Connecti
-
vity



Inter
nal
CoPs






Project
teams





Tight

Work
groups






Table 4. Groups described in terms of relationships and connectivity (Allee, 2000).


According to Botkin (1999), a major characteristic of CoPs is their
informal
structure, spontaneous origin
, and t
herefore their
visibility
. He prefers to call formal
communities therefore ‘knowledge communities’ which are “
purposely formed
-

some
like those at AT&T even have formal membership lists
-

and their purpose is to shape
future circumstances. They are highly

visible to every businessperson in the
organisation”
. He continues that
“knowledge communities in business are groups of
people with a common passion to create, share, and use new knowledge for tangible
business purposes”.

Successful knowledge communities
' bind with a sense of belonging
that comes with shared values or a common commitment. “
Members tend to trust one
another and to open themselves up to creative brainstorming without fear of being
ridiculed for ideas without immediate implementation.
”(Botki
n, 1999: 30).

CoPs on the other hand, are “the informal and often invisible communities that
every company has” (p. 30). “CoPs are similar to knowledge communities in that they
both describe how work gets done and how participation gives identity and mean
ing to
their members’ work. The difference is that CoPs are informal groups, shaped by
circumstances, visible mainly to social anthropologists".

Finally, McDermott (1999c) considers the dimension of ‘
degree of community
identity’
as very central. He dist
inguishes three types of groups along this dimension: an


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15

interest group
has a weak identity, while a
CoP

has a very strong one. According to his
terminology, a
network
is placed in between the other two.


3.3.

Concl usi ons


Knowledge sharing communities appear
to be known under various names such as
communities of practice, of interest, of commitment, networks of practice and knowledge
networks. The differences are to a limited degree related to variations in the
characteristics of the communities. These variati
ons relate to the following aspects



purpose

(= binding force): problem solving, product providing, individual learning
organisational innovations etc.



boundary
: open or closed for internal or external members



formalisation of set
-
up
: centrally selected mem
bers of informal bottom up origin



formalisation of co
-
ordination
: appointed facilitator, co
-
ordinator etc. or emerging
'leaders'



size
: from small to very large



composition
: only experts or experts plus novices



frequency of interaction



type of interaction:
face to face and/or via ICT.



16

T E L E M A T I C A I N S T I T U U T

4

Communities: some examples from practice


The descriptions of communities at Shell, Siemens, BP Amoco and Unilever, presented
here, are based on information, received during an intensive workshop on CoPs in
November 2000, lit
erature and on research that we have performed at Unilever. The
cases are described in terms of the following dimensions:



The structure of the communities and the organisation



The issue of connectivity



Knowledge exchange and 'broker'

Concerning
connectivit
y
: Especially the notion of collective acceptance (see
figure 1) seems important for learning at the organisational level. An important condition
for this organisational learning is the connectivity between individuals (among each
other) and the organisati
on. Thus, connectivity concerns the 'alignment' of the
community and its members with the rest of the organisation (including other
communities).

About the function of
knowledge broker
: The importance of connecting people to
the rest of the organisation, i
n the context of knowledge management, can be stimulated
by the function of a knowledge broker. This person can be considered as broker of
knowledge both by linking people to each other and to networks (either communities or
even organisations) in which th
ey are participating. Wenger (1998) states that brokers
make new connections between communities (crossing boundaries), make co
-
ordination
possible and open new possibilities for learning. Some people therefore prefer to stay at
the boundary of one or seve
ral communities (instead of participating in the centre) in
order to take care of this 'import and export' of knowledge. In that case they can function
as brokers. The brokerage (= enlarging connectivity) can also be done by a so
-
called
'boundary object' (
Wenger, 1998). This can be a physical artefact such as a (ICT) tool,
for example. When we discuss the role of the knowledge broker in the next sections, we
refer to those people, institutions or 'boundary objects' in the organisation or community
that (par
tly)
function

as a knowledge broker. So, this implies that it refers to those who
act

as a broker (thus, connecting the community (members) to the rest of the
organisation), but are not necessarily
called

a broker. They can have various names or
job descri
ptions.


4.1

Shel l


Structure



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Shell is an oil company of Dutch
-

British origin. The organisation is divided among the
three basic businesses of oil, chemicals and exploration and production (E&P). In this
'division' of E&P 30.836 people work. At the momen
t 70% of the professional staff joins
a network.

In 1998 they have implemented 106 small CoPs and Communities of Interests of 20 to
300 members, in which people created trust and identity. These were mostly informal,
hard to structure and facilitate. Late
r, in 1999, they have transformed these small groups
into communities that they call global networks. These groups are quite large and formal
(in the organisational structure). In E&P they have at least three large content
-
focussed
communities on issues of

sub
-
surface, surface and wells, which each have approximately
1500 to 2000 members. And also smaller communities on knowledge sharing,
competitive intelligence and HR learning issues. They feel that these large communities
can be controlled easier and nee
d 'energisers', such as 'hub
-
co
-
ordinators' that facilitate
etc.

These communities are mainly serving as a source of information for those who have a
problem in their work and seek the expertise of colleagues to solve this problem. The
learning that takes
place is first
-
order
-
learning, and not second
-
order innovative learning.

Before the rise of the smaller networks, employees were not used to share knowledge,
admit problems and ask for help. At the moment these things are considered to be
inherent to a job

at Shell. Knowledge in the large communities is shared via a discussion
list, for example, with questions and answers. Members do not meet face
-
to
-
face.

Connectivity

The department responsible for working standards regularly analyses the emails to find
e
lements that may be turned into standards. In this way shared knowledge is turned into
organisational knowledge (see figure 1).

Knowledge broker

The so
-
called ‘hub
-
co
-
ordinators’ decide who can join the community. These managers
further assemble with globa
l co
-
ordinators once in three to four months and fulfil in this
way a kind of a broker function. They have to take care that all activities within the
different communities are co
-
ordinated.


4.2

Si emens


Structure

Siemens is one of the largest electrical

engineering and electronics companies of the
world. It employs 447.000 people. They call their communities for learning and
knowledge sharing 'communities of excellence' (CoEs). These communities range from
small to quite large and focus on 'practices' su
ch as sales.

18

T E L E M A T I C A I N S T I T U U T

Siemens facilitates its communities with a globalintranet, called ICN ShareNet. Every
user has his own personalised workspace. These workspaces on the Intranet relate to
discussion groups, urgent requests, yellow pages and chat functionalities
. Knowledge and
information can be found through search, links and news.

Connectivity

The connection between the individuals and the organisation is defined by outputs of the
communities (deliverables) which are valuable for the whole organisation.

Knowle
dge broker

ShareNet can be considered as a knowledge broker. The ShareNet managers function
also as brokers and 'champions'. They have to co
-
ordinate all providing units and are
responsible for all review
-
management and knowledge development.


4.3

BP

Amoc
o


Structure

BP Amoco is the third
-
largest oil and gas company in the world. The organisation was
formed at the end of 1998 from a merger between British Petroleum (BP) and Amoco. It
consists of 126 business units in over 100 countries and employs over 80.
000 people.
Knowledge is very important to the organisation. The CEO stated that anyone who is not
directly responsible for profits (sales), needs to provide knowledge that is useful for the
organisation as a whole.

BP first tended to work with and in for
mal networks, in which people operated through
regular face
-
to
-
face meetings. Later, a large number of informal networks (CoPs) began
to be recognised and defined as well. Some were even set up centrally. Sometimes these
networks already existed as loose a
ffiliations of practitioners. The CoP
-
concept then
helped to legitimise them and gave them direction and impetus. Communities deal with
subjects such as 3D reservoir modelling, operations (with subgroups on e.g. production
efficiency or promotions) and ‘pr
oduced water during drilling’. Before the merger with
Amoco, a wide range of various groups and networks (or communities) existed in the
organisation. After the merger the organisation focused on the dual (formal
-

informal)
network model.

The differences

are shown in the following table.



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Formal Networks
(Communities of
Commitment)

CoPs, as informal networks

Membership

Defined

Voluntary

Customer

Business customer or peer
-
group

Members are their own
customers

Collective performance
contract

Yes

No

V
alue delivery

Collective (and through the
members)

Through the members

Management process

Formal

Informal or none

Level of company resourcing

High

Often low or none

Examples

The maintenance managers
network; the operations
managers network; the peer
-
gro
up networks

The green operations network;
the seismic survey network;
the grease network; the
produced water network; the
3D
-
modelling network

Quantity of networks present
in the organisation

50
-

60 CoCs

250
-

300 CoPs

Table 5
. Networks at BP Amoco


An
indication of the structure of various networks can be found in the following figure.



20

T E L E M A T I C A I N S T I T U U T


Figure 2. Networks in BP Amoco


The networks can use various means for facilitation, such as a network facilitator (who
co
-
ordinates the activity of the network), sev
eral means of communication (both face
-
to
-
face and virtual), a common storage facility for community knowledge (LINK
-
tool), and
the Connect tool (yellow pages, see next Chapter). Because most communities do not
meet face
-
to
-
face they rely on ICT. The (ICT)

tools used at BP Amoco include email,
public folders, discussion groups and shared documents.

Connectivity

Connectivity is considered very important. That is why the organisation invested in the
tool Connect. There is no defined hierarchy in the communiti
es of BP Amoco. There are
no 'experts' designated, but in practice, extraverts or 'real practical experienced' answer
most of the questions at discussion groups. This is usually a network facilitator, who is
active in steering and summarising discussions.
Approximately half of the community
-
members participate in such discussions, while the others do not ('lurkers'). Usually 80%
of the discussion involves 20% of the members.

Knowledge broker

The IT
-
system Connect in a sense serves as a knowledge broker betw
een people and their
expertise and experience. Some people have introduced 'play cards' on which supply and
demand of people on a certain problem are mentioned. These can then be combined.
Further, the active members in the CoC networks are brokers for all

of the 'extended
practice members'.




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21

4.4

Uni l ever


Structure

In Unilever several knowledge
-
sharing initiatives exist aiming to enhance the efficiency
of production and to improve innovative processes. In these initiatives, both knowledge
exchange and know
ledge creation processes play an important role. The Knowledge
Structuring and Mapping Unit at corporate level has started initiatives such as
‘Knowledge Workshops’ and ‘Communities of Practice’ (CoPs) to achieve these goals.

The first knowledge workshop w
as organised when the company faced problems in the
processing of ketchup. As an unforeseen phenomenon the workshop gave birth to a
community of experts, which was later called a 'community of practice' (Huysman & De
Wit, 2000: 92). At this moment the prac
tices (and thus communities) at Unilever
concentrate mostly around production processes (but also round supply management and
quality norms), for example the production of margarine or ketchup.

Connectivity

The set up of communities at Unilever proceeds in

a quite formal way. Employees are
selected carefully and then 'asked' to join the community. When they accept to join they
receive a special position within their department. From that moment they are considered
to be representatives of their department.
(When colleagues do not agree with a certain
person being delegated, it happens that the connection between the community and 'non
-
members' becomes damaged.) Through this process the CoPs become a homogeneous
group of experts.

Knowledge broker

At Unilever
the function of broker is established before the final formation of the
community. Who is known for his/her expertise in a certain knowledge field makes,
together with the supporting department, a selection of people who possibly can join the
community.



22

T E L E M A T I C A I N S T I T U U T

5

Conditions for continuity and success


5.1

Condi ti ons: model


The study of taskteams and of the conditions for their success has a long tradition. Important
overviews and meta
-
analyses of conditions for effectiveness and innovativeness in teams can
e.g.
be found in Larson and Defasto (1989), McGrath (1990), Anderson & West (1992),
Campion (1996), Guzzo and Dickson (1996), and in McIntyre and Salas (1996). These
studies have identified certain characteristics that appear to be conditional for their success
.

The study of communities is of very recent date. Lists of success
-
factors can be
found on the web, but systematic studies of conditions for success are scarce. One of the lists
on the web is the following:

Critical Success Factors in Building Community,

according to McDermott(1999b) are:

(URL:
http://www.co
-
i
-
l.com/coil/knowledge
-
garden/cop/knowing.shtml
)

Management Challenge

1.

Focus on topics important to the business and communi
ty members.

2.

Find a well
-
respected community member to co
-
ordinate the community.

3.

Make sure people have time and encouragement to participate.

4.

Build on the core values of the organisation.

Community Challenge

5.

Get key thought leaders involved.

6.

Build per
sonal relationships among community members.

7.

Develop an active passionate core group.

8.

Create forums for thinking together as well as systems for sharing information.

Technical Challenge

9.

Make it easy to contribute to and access the community’s knowledge
and
practices.

Personal Challenge

10.

Create real dialogue about cutting edge issues.




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23

Since communities have certain commonalities with task teams, this chapter will
discuss conditions for success of communities in comparison with conditions for team
success
.

In order to be able to discuss issues concerning teams and communities
systematically, a model concerning the characteristics and dynamics of these phenomena
is required. We have developed a model, which at the moment seems to be particularly
suited to
analyse both communities and teams. In the following paragraphs the different
aspects of the model will be described briefly.



Figure 3. Group Interaction Model


The model makes a distinction between input, process and outco
me aspects and
the context of the group. Success can be defined in terms of the various outcomes. These
success aspects are a function of the processes, which in their turn are to a certain degree
determined by the characteristics of the input but also by
external events. However the
line of causation is not as simple as suggested by this reasoning. The processes in the
group change the (input) characteristics of the group, thereby leading the group through
certain 'life cycle stages'.

Input characteristic
s

The inputfactors in the model are the characteristics of groups. They form the
starting condition for a new group and are often ‘given’ by the organisation. However,
the characteristics can and will change in the course of time, as a consequence of the
a
ctivities (processes) of the group. These changes are symptoms of the fact that groups
pass through various stages in their ‘life’. A mature group has often found a certain
stability in its characteristics, but this can be changed again on purpose or throu
gh
unexpected events.

24

T E L E M A T I C A I N S T I T U U T

The system perspective on organisations poses that the various characteristics
have to be in balance. The better the balance between the inputfactors the higher the
chance of adequate functioning and of desired outcomes.

The followi
ng (groups of) input characteristics can be distinguished:



Goal / Task Characteristics
, i.e. what the group has (set itself) to do;



Personal Characteristics
., i.e. the competencies, motives and other characteristics
of the group members;



Formal Structure
,
including formally defined roles (such as co
-
ordinator) and
procedures
;



Group Culture,

i.e. its norms, values, shared attitudes and knowledge;



Technology
, i.e. (communication) tools available for the group;



Context
, i.e. a group and its processes are embe
dded in an
organisational setting
.
Its characteristics are important conditions for successful functioning of groups. The
organisation provides a.o. the goal(s), and resources for the group. But as important
as conditional factors are also the general cult
ure (e.g. core values) and structure
(procedures, production processes etc) of that environment.

Interaction processes

The model distinguishes the following five basic categories of interaction (apart from
individual task
-
performance):



Communication
, i.e
. exchanging information, experiences and views (knowledge),
sometimes through the use of communication tools.

Communication is the basis for the following co
-
operative activities:



Co
-
operation
, i.e. working together towards a common product;



Co
-
ordinatio
n
, i.e. adjusting the work of the group members;



Social interaction
, i.e. social activities that support group functioning without being
explicitly task oriented;



Learning
, i.e. collecting, sharing and creating (information and) knowledge.

The sixth group

process is that of
teambuilding
and

teamdevelopment

through life
cycles, in which
reflection

on the groups functioning plays a major role.

Outcomes

Group interaction results in all kinds of outcomes, intended and unintended. The
intended ones are related
to the goals and tasks of the group. In the case of communities
the goals are often much more diffuse than for taskteams. Nevertheless, one can always
discern three levels of outcomes, i.e. for the organisation, for the group and for the


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25

individual. These
goals have to be in balance, i.e. co
-
operation in the group must always
be sufficiently rewarding for the individual group members to be motivated to
participate.

In the next paragraphs the model is used to describe the different conditions
which appear t
o be important for the success and continuation of teams and communities.
The conditions for successful
team
functioning are derived from the literature indicated at
the beginning of section 5.1.


5.2

Condi ti ons: The i nput factors


5.2.1

Goal and Task

A ma
jor condition for good teamwork is having clear and common goals and tasks
, plus
high standards of excellence, i.e. the teammembers have to be ‘results driven’.
The
situation of communities seems to be more complex. First, although it is often said that
co
mmunities do not have specific tasks, they do share the general goal of knowledge
exchange. And, according to the literature, it is important that this goal and particularly
the domain of shared knowledge is clear, because
'the knowledge object has to bind

the
members’
(Wenger & Snyder, 2000). However, experiences in certain communities seem
to suggest that having a shared knowledge domain and shared mental model is important,
but there should also be sufficient differences of opinion to make sharing worthw
hile, i.e.
to make it result in new learning.

Secondly, individual members easily seem to suffer from conflict of goals and
interests,
being torn between the interests of their own company and those of the
community. At Unilever, the members' boss and dema
nds of their own workenvironment
prevented them sometimes from spending much time on the community. To cope with
this problem, the people who initiated and organised the CoPs, spend much time and
energy in persuading the bosses of the intended members that

membership of their co
-
workers was important and beneficial to their company. But it still sometimes happened
that members were holding back during meetings, for example when the community
members came from companies which were
internal competitors (in ca
se companies of a
certain type had to be closed for reasons of redundancy). This appeared also to be
detrimental to the community’s functioning.

Thirdly, not only in the group itself but also in its context, parties can have
different views as to what the
group has to achieve. Whether this is detrimental is not
clear. In the Unilever case it appeared that the organisation was ambiguous as to what
was expected of the communities. On the one hand the CoPs had the rather vague
objective of co
-
ordinating knowle
dge development in the various domains. On the other
hand, it became clear that CoPs who produced now and then a concrete product, such as
a set of design requirements or a training course, received stronger (top) management
support.


26

T E L E M A T I C A I N S T I T U U T

5.2.2.

Personal characteris
tics

As far as taskteams are concerned, it is clear that the integration of personal
characteristics of team members is very important for teamfunctioning and teamsuccess.
Personal characteristics include the following:

a.

Stable dispositions, e.g. personalit
y, cognitive styles, innate abilities

b.

Position / role in the group or organisation

c.

Goals / interests

d.

Motivation

e.

Demographics: sex, age, education etc.

Both the availability of certain individual characteristics is important, and the
compatibility, comple
mentarily and commonality of characteristics. Incompatible
interests or personalities may destroy a team. It is however unclear to which degree the
same argument holds for communities. Since communities are generally much more
loosely coupled than teams, o
ne may hypothesise that the composition of a community is
of much less importance.


5.2.3. Formal structure

Successful project teams require strong formalisation in certain aspects such as goals,
role division, planning, membership, budgets, etc. However c
ertain literature on
communities appears not to favour formalisation (see chapter 3).
Formal structure refers
to the following aspects:

a.

Role
-
division

Adequate role division is related to two types of roles, i.e. functional roles (related to
expertise and

department) and grouprole. A project team should contain members
coming from the right departments and having the right expertise. The concept of
‘grouprole’ however refers to personality and social skills. Belbin (1993) has developed a
well
-
known typolog
y of grouproles and a method for selecting wellcomposed teams. An
adequate groupcomposition appears to be very crucial for teamwork.

The relevance of choosing the right grouproles for communities is less clear. For
communities that have peripheral relation
s such as the Shell CoPs the idea of
grouprole is nonsensical. However, the CoPS at Unilever are counting much on
grouptrust and cohesion and meet also face
-
to
-
face to develop certain innovative
ideas. In these cases grouprole composition may have some rel
evance.



Leader
-
role
. A special role is that of leader / co
-
ordinator. The importance of a
good leader cannot be stressed too much. According to the literature s (he) has to
be both task
-
oriented and group
-
oriented (giving social support) while for crisis
o
r stress situations s (he) should also be charismatic, i.e. evoking enthusiasm and
zeal in the group.



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27

In the communities of Unilever leadership appeared also to be crucial in several
aspects. In the cases reported, the leader was carefully selected, mostly

on the basis
of skills and of position: he had to have both outstanding qualities in the practice ánd
a large network of contacts. Social and organisational skills appeared also to be
important, particularly because s (he) had to chair the face
-
to
-
face me
etings. It was
however seen as a hindrance to the knowledge sharing process when the leader
played too prominent a role as ‘owner of meanings’ which were pushed to the other
members. In other words the leader had to be respected and visible but should not
be
too dominant. Another role of the leader was also mentioned. Respondents reported
that the leader had to ‘negotiate’ with the environment, in order to keep the
community free from ‘organisational burden’. This is similar to the 'boundary
spanning role'
of leaders in taskteams.

b.

Procedures, rules

The general literature on communities clearly promotes the vision that the exchange
and development of knowledge in
-
groups (communities) requires bottom
-
up
processes and should not follow very formal procedures.
At Unilever however we
found a relatively high degree of formalisation, at least in the preparation and set
-
up
of communities. At Unilever employees are only invited to become a member of a
community when the knowledge object is part of their daily work pr
actice and when
they are considered to be experts in the domain; otherwise they are not allowed to
join.

So, although some literature disfavours formalisation, a lot of roles within the
communities of Unilever are formalised. And indeed for processes such
as co
-
operation and co
-
ordination, it can be important to formalise several roles. However,
the impact of this formalisation on learning and social relations is not quite clear.

c.

Size

For teams it is recommended that they should be small, say five to ten,
as a condition for
adequate communication and co
-
ordination. For communities this condition is unclear.
Shell has what is called ‘communities’ with up to 1500 members. The communities at
Unilever, on the contrary, have approximately fifteen members. It is
a matter of study to
determine the optimal sizes for various types of communities.

d.

Group Culture

This category refers to issues such as shared values, norms, meanings, teamspirit,
mutual social support, single team identity,

collaborative climate, trust.
These
concepts are sometimes fuzzy, overlapping and difficult to identify clearly.
Nevertheless they appear to be of central importance. We distinguish the following
concepts:



Shared norms and behaviour
, i.e. opinions about what is proper and what is not



C
ohesion
:
Developing feelings of identity and belongings, in short
cohesion,

is
an important element in the 'group maintenance' function of teams, preventing
destructive conflicts and also stimulating co
-
operation. Cohesion is important for
the continuity o
f the group; it gives the group unity, stability and stronger
internal dynamics. But the danger of strong cohesiveness is 'groupthink' (Forsyth,
1990), i.e. an introvert attitude which results in closing towards external impulses
and therefore to creativit
y and innovation. Cohesion and creativity may therefore
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T E L E M A T I C A I N S T I T U U T

form a dilemma.


For teams the value of cohesion is clear, however not for communities, since they
are generally considered to be quite loosely coupled. Nevertheless, the Unilever
cases seem to sugges
t t
hat in cases where the need for co
-
operation is considered
to be high, the communities also need cohesion.


e.

Shared understandings / knowledge

While the issue of shared knowledge receives less attention in the team literature, it
appears to be of major
importance, to be often the ‘raison d'être’, for communities. It
is reflected in what is sometimes called shared mental models of reality. Shared
knowledge is both the objective of but also a condition for successful functioning of
communities.

f.

Trust

Accor
ding to literature and practical experiences mutual trust seems to be a very
important success
-
condition, both for teams and communities.

Klein Woolthuis (1999) distinguishes four types of trust. These are ‘affective trust’
(trust that is instantly presen
t and is usually based on tacit 'feelings'; simply put: if
chemistry exists), ‘initial or basic trust’ (independent from the other), ‘cognitive
trust’ (based on knowledge of the other) and ‘habituated trust’ (developed by
experience with the other).

Trust

-

and particular affective trust
-

seems one of the most important conditions,
especially for the continuity of social relations. It is as yet unclear to which extent
this is also relevant for communities. At Unilever trust was mentioned as important
cond
ition, however particularly in relation with task groups (subgroups) within the
community.

In their case study on international CoPs, Hildreth, Kimble and Wright (2000ab)
found that during face
-
to
-
face meetings community members managed to get a lot of
wor
k done and developed much more quickly relationships with other colleagues
then after the meetings. As they got to know each other, they gained confidence and
trust in each other and legitimisation in the eyes of each other.

Trust is related to openness.
Openness concerns an open attitude towards learning
and exchanging information with each other. When community members show a
more open attitude towards the others and are eager to learn from (and teach) each
other on a particular practice, it seems that a

community can be more successful. So
this is probably an important condition too.

Openness can be blocked by several factors. For example, a group leader can obstruct
openness simply by forbidding members to talk about or discuss issues that are
consider
ed damaging for their organisation.




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29

Cultures can differ in the way they view openness. In some countries hierarchy is an
important factor, while other countries are more egalitarian. Thus, in some cultures
openness might involve 'loss of face' (see also H
ofstede, 1991).

Trust and openness may be regarded as characteristics of small groups. However, in
certain companies organisational culture is such that people who work a long time for
that company, develop a kind of basic trust in all other members of th
at company.
This seems the reason why the members of large communities such as in Shell are
quite willing to exchange knowledge with unknown colleagues.

g.

Types of group cultures

The various aspects of culture are to some extent related, giving rise to a
spe
cific group culture or organisational culture. Much taxonomy of cultures
can be found. According to Quin’s well
-
known Competing Values Approach
(Quin & Rohrbach, 1983) four types can be distinguished:



Supportive:

characterised by co
-
operation, mutual trus
t, commitment,
individual growth and informal communication



Innovative
: creative, experimenting, with informal and lateral
communication



Goal orientation and competition
: achievement oriented; competitive
(internal and external)



Rules orientation (bureauc
ratic)
: formalised, hierarchical, respect for authority,
rational procedures, and vertical formal communication.

Research has to establish what opportunities and constraints for communities are
provided by the various cultures.


5.2.4

Technology

Can geographical
ly distributed teams and communities develop sufficient cohesion to keep
exchanging and sharing knowledge? Communication and co
-
operation, but also document
exchange and information retrieval in geographically distributed groups may be supported by
ICT. De
spite many studies however, little is yet known about the role Collaboration
Technology can fulfil in support of effective teamwork, let alone for communities.


Trust could be a problem in distributed groups where face
-
to
-
face interaction is
lacking. The t
heory of co
-
operation and of constructive controversy (Tjosvold, 1996)
requires that Collaboration Technology in
-
groups should not restrict information
exchange and distort communication. It also suggests that Collaboration Technology
tools for the exchang
e of information and sharing of views will not be very successful in
competitive groups.

BP Amoco has put its philosophy re technology quite strongly: “The best
medium for knowledge is the human brain, and the best networking protocol is
conversation”. A d
ilemma may exist between on the one hand a need for structured
30

T E L E M A T I C A I N S T I T U U T

taxonomy of expertise areas, while on the other a free
-
form entry must be made.
Because, “if there is too much structure the staff feels constrained by ‘box
-
thinking’”. It
started with pilots i
n whom employees could develop and maintain their own personal
home pages with documents, photos, etc. Later the current interface for Connect was
selected. The tool Connect is currently used very often. Connect is a voluntary Intranet
tool that serves as
Yellow Pages. It is further linked to desktop videoconferencing;
multimedia email and a real
-
time shared whiteboard. Together it is called ‘virtual
teamwork’. The home pages were filled as well with links to business units, teams,
contacts, networks and ex
ternal Internet sites. Connect
-
champions have come up with
even more creative ideas, such as playing cards (or milk
-
carton clues) with 'wanted' cries
for help, or posters, learning fairs and lunchtime publicity booths.

Two things proved very important in t
his BP Amoco case. First, it is vital to
establish ownership with the employees. This implies that people might use the tools
better or more frequent if they feel the necessity of it (helping their job). Second, the
human resource department can create the

right conditions, such as training. Although
the use is voluntary, people can be offered a suitable training to use the tools properly.
This has proven important to establish a critical mass.

Other tools, besides CONNECT, used at BP Amoco are LINK (a push

lessons
learnt database with knowledge that is stored after experience), 'WellsONLINE', and
'Well Engineering Forum' (discussion group). Further, newsletters, NetMeeting, etc..

The communities at Shell can use Lotus Notes, fax, email, discussion groups, a
nd
other tools. However, in practice, IT use is very limited. They have learnt this after
spending millions of dollars on IT facilitation. The most frequently used tool at E&P is a
discussion group facility on which everyone can post a request or question
for help,
while others react to it. Currently, there is no need for a storage
-
system, since it is
quicker to ask a (highly specific) question repeatedly than to search for a similar question
in a database, which is probably too generic anyway.


5.2.5

Organ
isational environment

Social systems are part of larger systems and consist themselves of smaller (sub)
systems. Groups such as task teams or communities are part of organisations and consist
of individuals and sometimes of subgroups. Individuals, groups a
nd organisations are
'nested' in the sense that the organisation (with its characteristics and processes) forms
the context for groups, providing them with goals, resources, norms, procedures, etc. The
context forms therefore an important condition for the

successful functioning of the
group.
Sundstrom, DeMeause & Futrell (1990)

consider team effectiveness to be
determined by
boundary
-
spanning
processes and the
interaction with the organisational
context
. With the concept of
organisational context

they refe
r to a range of aspects in the
environment of the team, i.e. organisational culture, task design, technology, mission
clarity, autonomy, performance feedback, rewards, training and the physical
environment.

The relation of a community with its environment

appeared indeed to be
extremely important in the Unilever case study. It appeared that the individual members
have strong relations with the environment, such as their own boss and company.
Maintaining a good relationship with that context appeared to be
crucial both for the


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31

individual members as for the community as a whole. Boundary spanning processes may
even be more important for communities than for project teams.


5.3

Condi ti ons: I nteracti on processe s


According to our model and literature effective
teams require



intensive

communication
and information sharing;



co
-
operation,
workload sharing and intensive interaction;



adequate c
o
-
ordination
and

transformational leadership, monitoring performance;



effective
relational behaviour,
such as participation
, conflict management;



learning

through feedback and reflexivity.

In bold the five central group processes are highlighted. The sixth groupprocess is that of
teambuilding, reflection and teamdevelopment

through life cycles.


5.3.1

Communicat ion

Adequate co
mmunication is not only a function of clear channels and signals but also of
the extent to which the participants in the communication have a common frame of
reference, i.e. a common language, common worldview or way of communication. This
frame of referen
ce is strongly determined by education, culture and discipline. But it is
also developed continually during communication. An ongoing process of interaction is
needed to reduce ambiguity and to create shared meanings, a shared interpretation of the
situati
on and shared intentions.

Communication in communities appears to be different nature than in teams. In the
communities of Unilever and Siemens communication appeared to be mostly restricted to
the face
-
to
-
face meetings held once or twice a year, with litt
le communication between
these meetings. The subgroups within the communities of Unilever seemed to
communicate internally more between meetings. The communities of BP and Shell
mainly communicated through highly sophisticated (BP) or simple (Shell) tools.


5.3.2

Co
-
operation

Co
-
operation in a community is sometimes limited to knowledge sharing. But sometimes
the tasks the community sets itself are more specific. At that moment subgroups may be
formed of which the members co
-
operate to accomplish this concr
ete task with and end
up with a clear deliverable. We can call this a crystallisation moment of the community.
About the actual co
-
operative processes in communities few information is available

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T E L E M A T I C A I N S T I T U U T

5.3.3

Co
-
ordination

Much is known about (ways and means of) c
o
-
ordination in task teams. It seems
reasonable to suppose that comparable processes are relevant in communities. Most
frequently communities appear to choose or get assigned a leader to co
-
ordinate their
activities. This leader indeed plays an important r
ole in the community; without a good
leader it is possible that a community drifts or dissolves. In the Unilever case an example
was given of a community that dissolved at the moment the leader changed jobs.

A leader has to motivate members, stimulate them
, protect them against
disturbing influences from outside of the community, focus the group and supervise the
deliverables, according to the respondents at Unilever. But when a leader tries to push his
ideas in the community he overrules the goal of the co
mmunity. (See also the section
leader
-
role.) It is hard to be creative and innovative when someone is pushing in a certain
direction.


5.3.4

Social interaction

Social interaction processes can build trust and establish cohesiveness. Having fun, going
out,
and resolving conflicts, all these options can contribute to more trust and
cohesiveness. McDermott (2000) mentions as a critical success factor for communities
that personal relationships among community members should be build. Jansen, Jägers
and Steenba
kkers (2000) state that both content and relational aspects are important for
communities, but analogue to McDermott they state that for successful knowledge
sharing, the relational component is absolutely vital.


5.3.5

Learning (processes)

Communities can

be useful for the organisation in several ways: '
They are nodes for the
exchange and interpretation of information; they can retain knowledge in 'living' ways;
they can steward competencies and provide homes for identities'
(Wenger, 1998b). He
also states
:
"CoPs structure an organisation's learning potential in two ways: through
the knowledge they develop at their core and through interactions at their boundaries".

It is crucial however to distinguish between the extend to which develops shared
knowledge t
he community as a whole, or to which extend communities are simply the
vehicle for individual members to learn and expand their knowledge.

This learning process interacts with the other processes: Learning needs good
communication, co
-
ordination and co
-
ope
ration.


5.3.6

Team development (lifecycle)


When people start working together it takes some time before they are welded into a
smoothly running team. Small
-
group researchers have distinguished certain ‘life stages’
in this process, without claiming that

these stages always follow a neat sequence. A well
-


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33

known stage model is that of
Tuckman (Tuckman, 1965; Tuckman & Jensen, 1977)
, who
distinguished five stages:


Stage

Major Processes

Characteristics

1. Orientation (Forming)

Exchange of information;
incr
eased interdependency; task
exploration; identification of
commonalities

Tentative interactions; polite
discourse; concern over
ambiguity; self
-
discourse

2. Conflict (Storming)

Disagreement over procedures;
expression of dissatisfaction;
emotional respond
ing; resistance

Criticism of ideas; poor
attendance; hostility;
polarisation and coalition
formation

3. Cohesion (Norming)

Growth of cohesiveness and
unity; establishment of roles,
standards, and relationships

Agreement on procedures;
reduction in role am
biguity;
increased 'we
-
feeling'

4. Performance
(Performing)

Goal achievement; high task
orientation; emphasis on
performance and production

Decision making; problem
solving; mutual co
-
operation

5. Dissolution (Adjourning)

Termination of roles;
completion
s of tasks; reduction
of dependency

Disintegration and withdrawal;
increased independent and
emotionality; regret


Table 5. Five stages of group development (Tuckman)


M
c