Conceptual Foundations of Communities of Practice as Organizational Structures

Conceptual Foundations of Communities of Practice as Organizational Structures

Sandra Sanz (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Spain) and Mario Pérez-Montoro (University of Barcelona, Spain)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-802-4.ch006


In recent years, the interest in and development of communities of practice (CoPs) has undergone exponential growth. However, this uncontrolled expansion has, to a large extent, led to the name of community of practice being attributed to working groups or communities that are not communities of practice. The aim of this work is to shed a little light on this confusion and identify and characterise communities of practice compared with other types of groups or organizational structures. To achieve this aim, first of all, we are going to introduce an intuitive and agreed definition of community of practice. In a second movement, we will identify and define the principal groups or organizational structures that are used, besides communities of practice, by organizations to improve their strategies when meeting these aims that they are pursuing. We will then present a comparison between these organizational structures or groups and communities of practice. The chapter ends by offering a number of conclusions and providing some guidelines on the future development of communities of practice.
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Communities Of Practice

No one now doubts that the subject of communities of practice arouses increasingly more interest in the academic field and in that of professional consultancy.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Problem-Solving Team: Organisational structure formed by workers who share ideas or offer suggestions on how to improve working processes and methods.

Virtual Team: Organisational structure formed by employees who use computational technology to bring together physically dispersed members with the aim of achieving a common objective.

Formal Task Group: Group formed by workers responsible for a specific work task.

Communities of Interest: Group of people who share a common interest or passion and exchange information, news and products with regard to it.

Learning Communities: Contexts in which the students learn thanks to their participation and involvement, in collaboration with other students, the teacher and other adults, in genuine processes of research and collective construction of knowledge on personal and socially relevant questions.

Communities of Practice: Group of people who perform the same professional activity or responsibility who, concerned with a common problem or moved by a common interest, expand their knowledge and expertise in this subject through ongoing interaction.

Multidisciplinary Team: Organisational structure formed by employees of the same hierarchical level but from different work divisions, who meet to carry out a task.

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