Communities of practice

Communities of practice, looking from an organizational perspective can be defined as the part of the organizational structure that insists on sharing the learning that people have gained in doing a work with the other people of the organization (Wenger, 1998). These vary from other types of groups present within the organization, since they have their own boundaries and exist for a certain period of time.  There are various stages through which communities of practice develop. The stages are characterized by activities of different kinds and interactions at different levels by the members of the community. The following figure shows the five stages of development as proposed by Wenger, McDermott, and Snyder (2002, p 69), through which communities of practice develop:

Figure 1: Stages of Development of communities of practice (Source: Wenger, McDermott, and Snyder (2002, p 69))
Figure 1: Stages of Development of communities of practice (Source: Wenger, McDermott, and Snyder (2002, p 69))

As the above figure shows, communities of practice develop through various stages. Each stage has a different set of activities. The stages can be explained as follows

Stage 1: Potential: It is the stage in which, people encountering similar problems or situations, find each other and identify their commonalities

Stage 2: Coalescing: In this stage people after finding each other, identify their potential and discuss about what knowledge is to be shared.

Stage 3: Active: This is the stage in which actual knowledge sharing takes place. The maturity stage is the one in which communities of practice meet its purpose of knowledge sharing. It is the most active stages among all the five stages of development of communities of practice.

Stage 4: Dispersed: In this stage people do not interact actively. However, the formed community acts as a knowledge center from which the members of the community access required information whenever necessary

Stage 5: Memorable: The final stage is one that persists after the community becomes extinct. In this stage the members retain the memories of knowledge gathered when they were a part of a community.

Thus communities of practice are present everywhere and are developed with the help of the above mentioned five stages, thereby enabling efficient knowledge sharing among the members of the community.


  • Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. New York: Cambridge University Press
  • Wenger, E., McDermott, R., & Snyder, W. M. (2002). Cultivatingcommunities of practice: A guide to managing knowledge. Boston: Harvard Business School Press

Abhinash Jena

Partner at Project Guru
Abhinash has worked in sales, branding, and marketing functions for GPS companies including MapmyIndia Navigators ( In addition to writing for Knowledge Tank articles, he also writes the expert's advice for Thesis & Dissertations and Power Designs.