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J Appl Psychol. 2011 Nov;96(6):1234-45. doi: 10.1037/a0024198. Epub 2011 Jun 20.

Managing a new collaborative entity in business organizations: understanding organizational communities of practice effectiveness.

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  • 1Department of Management, Mays Business School, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843-4221, USA.


Companies worldwide are turning to organizational communities of practice (OCoPs) as vehicles to generate learning and enhance organizational performance. OCoPs are defined as groups of employees who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic and who strengthen their knowledge and expertise by interacting on a consistent basis. To date, OCoP research has drawn almost exclusively from the community of practice (CoP) literature, even though the organizational form of CoPs shares attributes of traditional CoPs and of organizational teams. Drawing on Lave and Wenger's (1991) original theory of legitimate peripheral participation, we integrate theory and research from CoPs and organizational teams to develop and empirically examine a model of OCoP effectiveness that includes constructs such as leadership, empowerment, the structure of tasks, and OCoP relevance to organizational effectiveness. Using data from 32 OCoPs in a U.S.-based multinational mining and minerals processing firm, we found that external community leaders play an important role in enhancing OCoP empowerment, particularly to the extent that task interdependence is high. Empowerment, in turn, was positively related to OCoP effectiveness. We also found that OCoPs designated as "core" by the organization (e.g., working on critical issues) were more effective than those that were noncore. Task interdependence also was positively related to OCoP effectiveness. We provide scholars and practitioners with insights on how to effectively manage OCoPs in today's organizations.

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