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The Governance Paradox: Balancing Autonomy and Control in Managing Communities of Practice

Stefano Borzillo, Gilbert Probst & Sebastian Raisch

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abstract In management theory and practice, communities of practice have become increasingly influential as social structures in which knowledge can be created and shared. Initially presented as spontaneous and self-organizing processes, recent studies describe communities as amenable to manipulation and suggest a governance approach that balances autonomy and control.
This paper presents a process model of governance in communities of practice, focusing on the question of how organizations combine different governance mechanisms for a balanced management of these emergent structures. Drawing on data from an inductive study of 16 communities in nine organizations, we reveal three governance patterns, each associated with different learning processes and representing a different path towards a balance between autonomy and control: (1) expanding communities focused on recombining bodies of knowledge supported by a governance pattern that achieves balance within multiple governance mechanisms; (2) leveraging communities dedicated to knowledge replication supported by a governance pattern that combines strong technical authority with low disciplinary authority; and (3) probing communities focused on exploring new knowledge supported by a governance pattern that replaces direct control with indirect nurturing of the community’s routines.
This paper contributes to organizational control theory by revealing the different governance patterns deployed to balance autonomy and control in communities of practice. It also contributes to organization learning and design theories by revealing different learning processes and the related organizational features that constitute the three types of communities of practice.
   
type conference paper (English)
   
keywords communities of practice; learning; knowledge; governance; autonomy, control
   
name of conference Academy of Management Annual Meeting 2008 (Anaheim, California)
date of conference 12-9-2008
title of proceedings Academy of Managament Best Paper Proceedings
publisher Academy of Management (Briarcliff Manor, NY)
review double-blind review
   
citation Borzillo, S., Probst, G., & Raisch, S. (2008). The Governance Paradox: Balancing Autonomy and Control in Managing Communities of Practice. In Academy of Managament Best Paper Proceedings. Briarcliff Manor, NY: Academy of Management.