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Law #2: Communities: heart and soul of knowledge sharing

Knowledge sharing only takes place on a significant scale where organizations have organized themselves into communities of practice. These communities need to be “integrated” to the company’s strategy and its organizational structure.

The phenomenon of communities of practice is known under different names. In the World Bank, they are called thematic groups; in Hewlett Packard they are "learning communities" or "learning networks"; in Chevron they are called "best practice teams", and in Xerox they are know as "family groups".

Whatever the name, the formation of professional groupings where people come voluntarily together with others to share similar interests and learn from others’ skills has become the common feature of knowledge organizations. Vibrant communities operate in an environment of trust and mutual understanding which encourages learning and candid dialogue. They are safe places where people who do not know can learn from those who do know. Learning and knowledge transfer can be accelerated when community members are electronically linked to each other by email or the World Wide Web.

Information technology is insufficient by itself to create knowledge, but can be a catalytic tool which gives global reach to community members across large distances and time zones. This would have been scarcely possible even ten years ago. What we have discovered in effect in effect is that building "learning organization" requires building communities within which that learning can take place. Without communities linked to structure, organizations don't learn very fast at all.

Co-authors: Michel Pommier, Lesley Shneier, Stephen Denning

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