Have you ever seen the façades on the Grand-Place in Brussels? They look absolutely amazing. In the past they were literally the image of the guilds of Brussels. These days the guildhalls offer expensive chocolates to naïve tourists who are not aware that the really good chocolatiers reside on the Grand Sablon, not far away.
In the Middle Ages craftsmen often organized themselves in guilds. Formed around disciplines like carpeting, carving, and masonry, these guilds were sometimes strictly organized, putting up rules for workers around the country. Others were structured in a more relaxed way, and reaching no further than the city walls. But no matter how they worked, the guilds enabled people to learn a craft in master-apprentice working relationships, and they defined proper procedures and behaviors for all who practiced a craft.
Communities of Practice
Of course, the way we work nowadays isn’t suited for the way these guilds worked. (Although public services in Brussels could very well use some schooling when it comes to public service.) At the same time there are some aspects of our business that involve craftsmanship. That’s why the craftsmen within a company sometimes organize themselves in a modern version of a guild, which we call a community of practice (CoP). This is basically a group of professionals that share a common interest or area of work. The purpose of a CoP is to learn and share ideas, but also to standardize ways of working, or even to apply some forms of governance. Since they often cut across teams, products, and business units, they have a tendency to strengthen the social network in an organization…