Thursday, December 13, 2007

Communities of practice at Rabobank New Zealand and Australia

Brad Hinton wrote a paper about his experiences with communities of practice at the Rabobank Australia. You can download the paper here.

He explains that knowledge and information transfer have become important ingredients for an organization's competitive advantage. Learning organizations look at enabling and encouraging knowledge (creation) and its use throughout the organization. Communities of practice can be an important component of a knowledge management strategy. People in communities share their experiences and knowledge in a free-flowing, creative way.

The Rabobank Australia and New Zealand wanted to leverage the knowledge of the rural account managers and financial officers, with better information provision and business solutions to clients as the desired outcome. They started communities of practice under the name 'pubs'. The pubs are dairy product based eg. beef, cotton, dairy, oilseeds etc. The first pub was created opportunistically, after a Roundtable event. Unfortunately the pub was not successful because there was insufficient input into its development.

Then more research was undertaken into the knowledge management and communities of practice literature and also into the information use patterns of the relationship managers. Preferred communication methods were interpersonal, and e-mail.

A group e-mail system was then chosen over more sophisticated technological options because of its ease of use and familiarity to facilitate early adoption and activity. Some key success factors included personal visits to explain the concept of communities of practice. The name pub generated also a lot of interest. The 'pubs' now provide a vehicle for ideas and discussions that can lead to innovation and improved work performance. Benefits have been helping staff to work smarter, encourage thought and put that into action by helping clients.

I liked the approach of going for simple technology. That's what I usually do too, a short inventory of what people use and then choose the best, most familiar option. What I noticed though is that when organizations have invested in an online forum, the urge to use that forum is quite big, and group e-mail is no longer an option. Maybe this is an option to bring back into focus, even when there is a 'more sophisticated' forum? And how to combine a toolset? And how to stimulate people who are used to other forums and may feel the simple technology is not appealing? I would be interested to know more about the facilitation of the later pubs. Brad states that the first failed because of little facilitation, but what kind of facilitation was offered to the later pubs?


Brad H. said...

Yep, you're right. E-mail best suited the workplace structure already in place. The facilitation was improved by better communication with the target groups, the actual name "pub" that was crucial in quickly obtaining critical mass, and then some great early posts that demonstrated use and effectiveness. Con tinued encouragement and marketing, including at inductions, also helped as time rolled on.

The next phase was to have been looking at online forums, potentially in a blog or wiki platform. I even proposed to the head of strategy and the CEO that a senior management blog should have been initiated to improve internal communication.

As it turned out, I didn't receive any support from my manager and so I am no longer with the company.


Joitske said...

Thanks Brad for explaining this a little further. I'm currently also wondering about the extent that participation by 'experts' in the domain, is important during the start-up phases. I guess it's important and in the case of corporate cops that might be the importance attached to it by management.