Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning meaning, and identity. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Provocative Question #6:

Why does identity matter in COP functions? For individuals? For groups? For organizations? As my identity changes, what can I do to foster continued connections and even grow my engagement in CoPs that can influence my ability to innovate?

Step 1: Prepare for a conversation

Quote/ideas from the book; applications/instances from your workplace settingPage number
“Mutual engagement involves not only our competence, but also the competence of others. It draws on what we do and what we know, as well as on our ability to connect meaningfully to what we don’t do and what we don’t know – that is, to the contributions and knowledge of others. In this sense, mutual engagement is inherently partial; yet, in the context of a shared practice, this partiality is as much a resource as it is a limitation” (p. 76).
For organizations…learning is an issue of sustaining the interconnected communities of practice through which an organization knows what it knows and thus becomes effective and valuable as an organization” (p. 8)
“Talking about identity in social terms is not denying individuality but viewing the very definition of individuality as something that is part of the practices of specific communities. It is therefore a mistaken dichotomy to wonder whether the unit of analysis of identity should be the community or the person. The focus must be on the process of their mutual constitution” (p. 146).
“For many of us, the concept of learning immediately conjures up images of classrooms, training sessions, teachers, textbooks, homework, and exercises. Yet in our experience, learning is an integral part of our everyday lives. It is part of our participation in our communities and organizations” (p. 8)
“Our identities are constituted not only by what we are but also by what we are not. To the extent that we can come in contact with other ways of being, what we are not can even become a large part of how we define ourselves,” (p. 164)
A lot of my Cycle 0 research has been focused on how my teammates understand their identity and role.

Step 2: Hold a conversation

  • M: restates the question
  • CC: COPs when effective are very effective. We have a good mix of people that come from different perspectives & work collegially, so when we put our minds to something we do it well.
  • M: In my team, everyone is doing so many different things, our role is not always clearly defined. Outside of the team, it’s easier.
  • K: page 94…constant change is so much a part that it almost goes unnoticed…there’s so much change…
  • CS: “dynamic equilibrium…” turnover or constant training can play and impact the change – especially as we incorporate others
  • L: we’ve had a vacant position on my team, and the realities of what that means…but now by not having anyone doing it, it means that tasks that I wasn’t going to do I now have to do…which in turn limits my effectiveness. This happens all the time – we get derailed by our capacity constraints. When you want to move a community forward and others move in and out of it…
  • CS: It was best for the long-term productivity when we had someone leave, but being down personnel in different areas has been really hard.
  • CC: We had a situation where as we grow online, we have online specific people who are tangentially part of our web, but their role is still in a separate group.
  • M: would be nice to hear more about how change is initiated.
  • K: So it’s not always about how change is initiated for us, but also by us – whether that’s personnel turnover or policy, etc. I think if I could choose one of the questions, operationalizing change efforts impacts me most. As I think about our team, we’re doing a really good job with this seamless transition we’re making with our LMS. They’re doing a lot of really good things. Get to the big blue wall…operationalizing change efforts
  • Me – elevator pitch/ vocabulary, quote from page 261.

Step 3: Determine your leadership challenge

For this leadership challenge, I want to explore how my team understands their role(s) and identities in our community of practice. We are a relatively new team, and some of my colleagues with my same job title and role are still working to understand who we are and what we do.

Step 4: Implement and reflect

So for this LdC, I interviewed my two colleagues, which overlaps with my Cycle 0 action research paper. And while my results are still tentative/provisional, I can say that this was in interesting exercise not just for the paper (that I’ll get around to at some point), but also for team-building! My teammates have a solid sense of their own identities, it seems, but we are still developing an identity for what our organization is and how our collective identity – our community of practice – is evolving and growing. We are doing coherent work, but it is really a credit to our individual competence that we’re doing it without all the clarity we might otherwise want in our vision/direction.

Our team is definitely in a place where we feel like we are building community, but we don’t necessarily have a ton of competence. It’s not that we’re not competent people, but it’s more that the work we’re doing. So this is one area where I think I can continue to help support our team. As a change agent and influential leader, I am happy to be taking on this work this term. It is likely that sometime in the coming weeks and months, we will have some important strategic meetings with our team to think about where we go. But I am glad that this project, really over the course of the term, has allowed me to begin these conversations and bring these issues to the forefront.

As it relates to Wenger, I think he would see that we are on a trajectory that would be familiar to something he has seen before. As we are growing in our vision and shared identities, we are building trusting and supportive personal relationships, and we are reifying our COP through the tools and processes we’re using. I think we have a long way to go, but I’m excited for where we’re headed!