Community of Practice Handbook – Company Command

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Company Command is the most practical community of practice (CoP) implementation guide that I’ve read so far. It traces the story of the development of an online community designed to share knowledge between US Army company commanders, past and present. If you can get over the military jargon (and even some acronyms that I, an ex-soldier, couldn’t figure out) the lessons in this book are transferable to civilian life.

Here is a summary of the key concepts from Chapter One:

  • Knowledge resides primarily in the minds of community members
  • Connecting members allows knowledge to flow
  • Relationships, trust and a sense of a professional community are critical factors for an effective community
  • Content development emerges from needs expressed in conversations
  • A decentralized network is best

The books authors go on to tell stories about how the community grew and discuss the types of roles that are necessary for an effective knowledge-sharing community [I've changed to non-military terms].

  1. Initial Core Team of two or three people who desire to share knowledge.
  2. Early Adopters who are members of the community that you are serving, especially those who are already well-connected.
  3. Mavens with deep knowledge in an area that is valued by the members.

The book is filled with practical ideas and I’m sure that anyone involved in building online communities will find something useful here. I will be using much of the advice here to help start a CoP that a client is launching over the next nine months, and I appreciate that the folks at Tomoye, who provide the technical platform for CompanyCommand, passed on this book to us.

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10 Responses to “Community of Practice Handbook – Company Command”

  1. Harold

    It’s on Tomoye (Ecco) now, but it may have been on Drupal initially. I would imagine that the original volunteer-only site was on an open source platform, but it’s now hosted and supported by the US Army.

  2. Pete Kilner

    The CompanyCommand professional forum was straight HTML from 2000-2003, except for the discussion thread that used open-source code.

    In May, 2003, CC moved onto Tomoye Simplify, and in 2007 migrated to Tomoye Ecco. The images and examples in the Unleashing book show the forum as it was in 2004 (Simplify), although the principles of CoP support are independent of platform.

    I’m glad that you find the book helpful. Best of luck in all you do.

  3. Dave Ferguson

    One striking aspect is that this community of practice emerged in the organizational archetype for command and control.

    Which seems to be a strong counter to arguments about the feasibility of knowledge-sharing networks in pretty much any organization.

  4. Harold

    Knowledge-sharing happened in the US military because they were at war. This would not have developed in peacetime. The company commanders realised that they had to find a way around the bureaucracy because their lives and their troops were at risk. It’s amazing how a life-threatening situation can help you focus on what’s really important.

    Yes, the military has a chain of command, but it’s frequently disrupted during times of conflict. For example, in Normandy, the Canadian Army was replacing battalion commanders on an almost daily basis, until they finally got effective leadership.

    Organisations may change to less command & control because they have no choice today, but those in control will go kicking and screaming, and it will take the equivalent of a war to force the issue.

  5. Pete Kilner

    I have to take issue with you on this one, Harold. The CompanyCommand forum (at the time, companycommand.com) was founded in early 2000, a good 18 months before the start of the war.

    The Army was supportive (in the sense of not interfering and allowing us to use our work computers, etc) from the start.

  6. Harold Jarche

    Thanks for the clarification, Pete, though some might say that US was at war in 2000, just not in Iraq. Nice to know that the chain of command was supportive.