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Participation in intra-firm communities of practice: a case study from the automotive industry

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PurposeCommunities of practice (CoPs) have been found to support knowledge creation by enabling knowledge sharing among experts in firms. However, some perform better than others. This paper seeks to explore what incentivizes employees to share knowledge in intra-firm CoPs. Design/methodology/approachThe paper presents a longitudinal case study in a large automotive company that introduced 82 cross-functional CoPs into its engineering department. Using extensive qualitative data, two sets of communities: best and worst performing were analyzed. FindingsIt was found that perceived benefits and the employees' willingness to invest individual efforts into community work are stronger in better performing communities. Members of the better performing CoPs drew most benefits from participating in organizational decision processes, as they were able to influence the agenda and create relevant standards. The patterns observed relate to the efforts, benefits, and barriers of community work. Research limitations/implicationsThe single case study design limits the generalizability of the results beyond the company studied. Furthermore, some of the data employed were perceptional and relied partly on self-reporting of the community members. Practical implicationsThe paper argues that management support for CoPs should aim at influencing the individual cost-benefit calculus of community members. Respecting and implementing results from the communities' work is likely to provide the very basis for innovations to emerge at all. Originality/valueOther than extant studies on CoP performance that focus on company benefits from deploying CoPs, this paper offers a new perspective by exploring the benefits and incentives available to community members.
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Keywords: Knowledge management; Performance management

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 22 February 2011

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