He writes about the management dilemma: should a manager interfere with communities of practice (rule them or support them) or would it be wiser to leave them in peace? His paper based on research within the Amsterdam Police Force suggests that 'managers should not make a choice, but rather manage the competing values of different strategies'. The manager could both guide and facilitate the community from time to time rather than only support it.
He did 3 years of action-research including a simulation game. He noted down 4 coordination problems with the CoPs of the Amsterdam Police Force:
- Work for the CoP (called regional projects) has low priority, participation is hence unreliable.
- Intranet only supports formal, static information (eg. on laws) but there is a need for technologies that support informal coordination mechanisms.
- Police culture; policemen are selected for their self-conceit, but don't often show their weaknesses and thus do not consult others very often.
- The central coordinator is the only reliable source of information.
At the same time he does report that part of the members is very enthusiastic and they often work for the CoP in their free time.
He recommends that management can make a big difference by rewarding the preferred behaviour (consulting, reflecting, spending time with communities, focus on quality instead of quantity). CoP Coordinators have a lot of freedom, and might benefit from stronger monitoring.
A great explanation is given on the possible strategies of managers, from defensive blocking strategies, via neutral nurturing strategies to active interference strategies. (check that out if that is an area of interest to you).
I think in this case of the Amsterdam Police Force, the CoPs work within the setting of a general organizational culture which is not favourable to the kind of knowledge sharing within CoPs. So I agree that managers can (and should) play a strong role there to turn the organisational culture around. On the other hand, I have a question about the role of CoPs themselves in turning the organizational culture around. In my own experience in West Africa the CoP created a completely different culture (much more positive) than the organisational culture.
Lastly, I would recommend coaching the coordinators, in addition to monitoring the results. Also, I would recommend to pay attention to the group of members who invest free time in their community of practice. Those are the people who are probably very passionate about the domain of the CoP because they experience it in their daily practice.