Communities of Practice Differ and Structure
Though a neighbourhood is called a community, not every community is called Community of Practice. Similarly, not everything which is practiced like practicing the piano will give rise to community. The terms like community and practice refer to a particular type of social structure with a particular purpose. Giving some contrasts with the other more familiar structures will help to explain what is distinctive about the communities of practice as the knowledge structures.
Communities versus business or functional Units
The core of the business or the functional unit is the responsibility for managing a business aim like serving a particular market segment, manufacturing a product or fulfilling the administrative function. The responsibility includes allocating the resources, managing the business processes and also assigning the formal roles, the reporting relationships and the accountability for the business outcomes. The Communities of Practice are loosely connected, informal and self-managed than the business units even when they are institutionalised. The production targets, the allocation of the resources and the reporting relationships will distract the Community of Practice from the purpose of spreading the knowledge and also initiating the learning process.
Communities versus project or operational teams
The essence of the team is the set of interdependent tasks which contribute to the predefined shared objective. The teams which make a commitment to the aims and make sure that the individual commitments are kept. The team leader will have to keep the team focused on the deliverables and coordinate the individual contributions to the overall objectives. The essence of the community practice is the member's personal investment in the domain. A domain is different from the task and is not so much so that a particular achievement as a territory where an area of the shared interest which the community explores. The members are connected by the interdependent knowledge and not the interdependent sub tasks. A community may also undertake the particular tasks and the projects in the course of developing the practice.
Communities versus informal networks, "Communities of Interest," and professional associations
All the organisations will have informal networks of people who can communicate, share information and also build the relationships and reputations. The community of practice is different from such network which means that it is not a set of relationships but is the domain which will give the identity, commitment to care and intentionality to go beyond the interpersonal nature of the informal networks. A shared interest will not necessarily yield a community of practice. Caring for a domain will go beyond the mere interest and also entail developing the shared practice which directly affects the behaviours and the abilities of the members. But, having a shared practice does not necessarily constitute the community of practice. Many of the professional associations act more as lobbying or advocacy entities than the communities of practice. The extent to which the group is or is not a community of practice is not something which can be determined in the abstract by the name or by the characteristics of members.