Success Through Communities of Practice

Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems by Etienne Wenger was a scholarly article that I enjoyed reading this week. The report focused on the roles of communities of practice and the successful environment they promote in organizations. Etienne Wenger, “argues that the success of organizations depends on their ability to design themselves as social learning systems and also to participate in broader learning systems such as an industry, region, or a consortium.” As I launched into reading this essay I instantly found myself in agreement with the research and findings that were being presented. I almost immediately began to reflect on current and past experiences from my professional community, that helped me grasp the point the author was trying to drive home with readers, of how imperative social learning systems can be to organizational success.

The article provided great insight on how communities of practice have been around, since the beginning of history (Wenger, 2000). The piece uses examples that portray the use of social learning systems from the beginning of time to current practices used in organizations of today. According to Wenger, “participating in these ‘communities of practice’ is essential to our learning.” The point being made was; communities of practice are the basic building blocks of social learning systems because they are the social ‘containers’ of the competences that make up such a system (Wenger, 2000). The author explains that social learning systems both inside and outside of our organization will encourage success.

I found myself reflecting on instances of my professional life that mirrored the experiences in some of the cases that were given in the reading. The examples varied from an eye opening experience you have when in your current place of work, or when removed from your everyday work environment and are able to engage a person or group of people who help open your eyes to a different perspective. The skills to help gain or share knowledge and formulate ideas in a community is important to the development of the culture and environment that established by group or community. Other illustrations presented in this writing of interacting at the dinner table, or working in cross-departmental work groups, all helped to reinforce my own belief that it is vital for people within an organization to break out of their silos and expose themselves not only in their own community, but also in other communities. By not being afraid to broaden your perspectives and open up to other communities of practice, individuals and organizations can help nurture growth and development while opening community members up to new perspectives.

Although encouraging interplay amongst various areas both internally and externally is great, I agree with the author’s point that, “social learning systems often run counter to traditional management practices” (Wenger, 2000).When groups or people start to engage with various parties, the potential for barriers or boundary issues can occur. “Boundaries can create divisions and be a source of separation, fragmentation, disconnection, and misunderstanding” (Wenger, 2000). Hence organizations must tread carefully as they encourage learning communities at all levels. From my perspective, the potential benefits of fostering communities of practice outweigh the downside to not encouraging this type of work.

I trust that for individuals and groups alike, finding a good mix of communities to engage with will help inspire cultural awareness, the sharing of knowledge, and the receiving of knowledge. Social learning systems will boost people to open their eyes to a variety of perspectives and, utilize these types of practice to help shape their identities (Wenger, 2000). As you reflect on this blog, think about the social communities that you interact with today, and contemplate where you might be without the interactions that have help mold you today. Consider times when you were able to cross your typical personal or professional lines of work. Where would you be without these experiences? I know for me being able to expose myself to a variety of communities, people, organizations, and practices, it has helped me to develop my knowledge base across various topics of social and professional settings for the better. Success by way of communities of practices is key.


Wenger, E. (2000). Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems. Organization, 7(2), 225-246.