Implementing Social Media: A Tale of Two Case Studies
How Do You Create a Culture of Sharing?

Some Video Advice from Two Companies On Using Online Communities of Practice

A couple of short videos on communities of practice. The first is from Dave Vance, former president of Caterpillar University, who shares some of Caterpillar's experiences in facilitating online communities of practice. His advice?

  • You need to have a sharing culture to build from--communities of practice don't work in organizations that have a culture of hoarding information.
  • It isn't about capturing the knowledge, although that can be a good side benefit. It's about facilitating the conversations between people.
  • Caterpillar makes their communities as de-centralized as possible. They provide people with the tools, the guidelines for using them and some idea of the potential and then they leave it up to employees to develop their communities. One full-time staff person supports 4,000 communities of practice that include 40,000 Caterpillar employees.
  • Don't worry that people will give bad advice. There are enough people participating in the conversations that if someone says the wrong thing, it will quickly be corrected. "You have to let it sort itself out," says Vance.
  • Don't put knowledge through a vetting process. Again, because there are so many knowledgeable people, the system is self-correcting. Plus having to always vet information will certainly hamper any kind of sharing.

This second video is an example of the benefit of online communities of practice in the mining industry at Rio Tinto. It shows how through an active online CoP, one Rio Tinto division saved over a year's worth of work and headaches because they were able to quickly connect with another division that had experienced and solved a similar problem.

Both Caterpillar and Rio Tinto mention that their communities of practice save considerable time and money. What's also interesting is that these online communities are being fostered in heavy manufacturing types of industries where you'd think that maybe uptake would be slower. Not the case, though.


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Hi Michelle,

I really appreciate this post. I've been looking for some good examples of communities of practice and here's two that are spot on. Thank you. I'm particularly taken by the sharing culture concept that Dave talks about and Rio Tinto does in practice. In my line of work we'd call it a collaborative culture.

There's a lot of organizations that simply do not have such a culture for a variety of reasons whether silo boundaries, competitiveness or perhaps simply the habit of working locally (co-located) but not connecting beyond in this sharing culture kind of way. I'm wondering if you have examples of companies or organizations that shifted the culture to one of sharing and how they may have seeded the shift?

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