The Three Essential Elements of a Community of Practice—Part 1: Domain

Essential elements of a community of Practice: Domain. When I lead training sessions on Communities of Practice, we often begin by analyzing the groups we already belong to identify those that fit the criteria of a Community of Practice (CoP). Are you already part of a CoP, perhaps without even being aware of it? What are the defining elements? What makes it different from other business teams?

It turns out that you can think about a CoP as being comprised of three main elements: domain, community, and practice. Without even one of these elements, it might be a community or a team but it’s simply not a CoP. 

This is the first of a series of three articles on these three must-have elements of a CoP. We will dive into each one starting with—Domain. 

Domain—What is it?

A domain is that one thing all members have in common, the focus of their work, or the central, organizing principle. The domain might be housing, marketing, entertainment, education, leadership, community outreach, etc. You may be a member of a CoP through a professional affiliation, local community involvement, or in an educational endeavor. For example, in education, there are many successful CoPs build around domains such as curricula and teacher best practices.

The domain is the central idea that we call our work, but more specifically, it is the thing around which we exercise our knowledge and skills. This distinction is important for a CoP because in a CoP we document knowledge and share our practice, thus deepening our skill level in our domain. For example, in a group of leaders who come together to provide a network of ideas around the topic of leadership the “domain” would be leadership and the “practice” would be the individual leadership work they each do. 

How a Domain Focuses a Community 

Most often, it’s the domain that brings a CoP together by providing it with purpose. I discussed in a previous post on effective meetings, how without purpose your meeting almost always breaks down. The same could be said about a CoP: If your domain is weak, not specific enough, or if there are community members uncommitted to the domain, then there are likely to be problems. However, if the domain is relevant, targeted, and every member knows why they are part of the community, then it will likely flourish. 

It’s often the case that a group of people is already working together in your domain. If that’s true, you may consider exploring whether the group is a CoP or could benefit from becoming a CoP. In fact, this is how many CoPs are formed, via already existing groups. This could be a working group, a professional club, a local community association, or a message board community, but it must have a focused domain in order to be successful. 

On the other hand, if it seems that your domain of interest does not already exist in the form of a CoP, there are steps you can follow to develop a community. In my next post, I’ll be discussing the second critical element of a CoP—communities—what they are, and how they form. 

In the meantime, are you intrigued by the benefits of a Community of Practice? I can support you to create a self-facilitating Community of Practice that is built, owned, and managed by your team. Contact me to learn more or download my special report Leading a Purpose-Driven Team.

Louise J Santiago, PhD
Executive Coach and Organizational Consultant

Where Leadership is Intentional Work

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