Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Building Distributed Networks of Knowledge

Over the past year I've met many new people on Facebook, LinkedIN and Twitter who have exposed me to a wide range of new ideas.  Last week Giorgio Bertini who lives in Mexico City and  hosts a blog/library titled Learning Change posted an article titled Exploring the Role of Boundary Spanning in DistributedNetworks of Knowledge

The abstract says "Knowledge sharing and creation are considered key processes leading to innovation and organizational performance. Several organizational initiatives have focused on building communities of practice in order to create a platform where employees can share experiences and insights."

The article goes on to show the value of people who help organize these communities of practice and who use the Internet to connect people from different locations and different parts of the organization.  It also talks about how companies are becoming intentional in how they support the growth of such networks.

I've suggested for many years that companies that strategically encourage and support on-going employee involvement in tutor/mentor programs should do this as part of their own workforce and talent development strategies.  As volunteers connect  in tutor/mentor programs they begin to build bonds with youth and the organizations.  They begin to have questions of "what to do" and "what more can I do to help the child, or help the organization."  Many programs provide social activities and are beginning to use social media to connect their volunteers to each other and to coach the ongoing invovlvement of volunteers and young people.

I believe there is an opportunity for companies and industries to form communities of practice and learning circles consisting of employees from many locations and branches of a company who share ideas with each other based on involvement they have with many different tutor/mentor programs. Such ongoing idea sharing can empower each volunteer with more ideas that they can bring to their weekly tutoring/mentoring and to the way they support the organization where they volunteer.

However, it can also lead to new innovations in how the company or industry uses its own resources to support multiple organizations providing the same type of service in different locations.  

While this would have a growing impact on the availability and quality of volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs it also would create informal social networks connecting people from different parts of a company which would lead to many of the benefits described in the paper I've pointed to.

In addition, employees who take on the role of network facilitator supporting employee involvement in social causes will build skills that they can bring to building and sustaining communities of practice focused on internal corporate goals. Gaining such skills from volunteer involvement has limited cost but potentially great benefit to the company.

So how do we encourage this type of growth?  Companies who already support this type of community of practice should connect their internal communities to external communities who focus on the same issues. Companies can create face-to-face connection opportunities by encouraging employee involvement in the May and November Tutor/Mentor Conferences we host in Chicago and that others host in other cities.

This Role of Leaders PDF shows ways CEOs can encourage employee involvement in volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs in cities where they do business.  I'd be happy to work with companies, hospitals and professional associations to help you build communities of practice focused on helping volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs grow in more places.

We can connect in forums like or on Facebook or LinkedIn or in forums already hosted by company teams.  Let's connect.

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