We have spent some time with WWITMan, a distributed CoP, and we have had a look at the issues that arose from our time with them. We have seen many of the CoP characteristics and seen something of how they apply in the distributed world, but the two most striking themes to emerge from Stage One are:

  • The importance of developing relationships; and

  • The importance of shared artefacts.

The emergence of social issues (in the form of relationships) and shared artefacts maps on to the Participation/Reification duality described by Wenger (1998). The shared artefact is an example of reification, and the relationships that are developed between the community members encourage participation. It is important to note that the process of developing relationships and the artefact, and the process of working with the artefact underpin everything. The process of creating the artefact and working with it facilitate further participation (Figure 7).

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Figure 7: Mapping WWITMan to Wenger (1998)

We have already learned a lot from our time with the UK core, but this is only part of WWITMan. As we are interested in the functioning of an internationally distributed CoP, we really need to spend some time with the US core, too. We will accompany the UK core on one of its regular visits to America to visit its colleagues in California, then we will be able to follow up on the insights and issues that arose from Stage One of our study. In particular, we want to pay close attention to the importance of the social issues in the form of developing relationships and the role of the shared artefact—for example, its stimulative roles, its role as a boundary object, how it is propagated across different media, and the knowledge it might have embedded in it.

Chapter VI: Stage Two—Visiting the American Core

Chapter VI describes Stage Two of the case study. Here we participate in a visit made by the UK core of the CoP to visit its peers in the US. In Stage Two, we want to focus on the issues and insights gained from our time with the UK core. In particular, Stage One showed us the importance of relationships for sustaining a distributed CoP and the importance of a face-to-face element in the development of the relationships. In Stage Two, we can observe the face-to-face element between the cores. Stage One also showed us the importance of the development and use of a shared artefact in the form of the planning document. In Stage Two, we can follow the continued development and use of the planning document.


In Stage Two of our study, our goal is to extend and inform the issues and insights that came out of our time with the UK core of our CoP. The two most striking issues that we found in Stage One were:

  • the importance of the shared artefact (a planning document), and

  • the importance of social issues in the form of the relationships that were developed in face-to-face situations.

In Stage Two, we want to pay particular attention to the face-to-face element of relationship development and the continued development and use of the planning document.

The vignettes in this section describe one of the regular face-to-face visits made at approximately six-monthly intervals between the cores of WWITMan. In this case it was the UK core's turn to visit its American colleagues. The period of the visit is outlined in Figure 1.

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Figure 1: Summary of Events in Stage Two of the Case Study

In this part of the case study many more people were involved. The main players are shown in Figure 2, which shows some of the people in USIT.

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Figure 2: People in USIT

The four managers of USIT make up the US core of the WWITMan CoP. Some of them were already encountered in Stage One as they were contacted by their UK peers or as they participated in e-meetings. There is one notable difference between the first and second phases: Don has left the organisation, and has been replaced by Graeme. Graeme previously occupied the post "New Promotion" in Figure 2, so he was already a member of the wider WWIT group and was well known to all of the CoP members. Don's additional role as overall head of USIT is temporarily being shared by Ray and Robert.

The visit had been planned well in advance. Wayne and Robert had got together electronically to draw up a schedule. This had been followed by an e-meeting where other people had made suggestions. The schedule had been updated to take the comments into account and had then been placed on the intranet for further comment and for information. The schedule contains space for informal contacts and also a number of pre-arranged meetings. The planning document influences the schedule to some degree in that a number of the meetings are to cover topics that have been taken directly from the planning document. The purpose of the meetings is not to come away with action items (as is usual in the e-meetings) but to discuss and come together as a group.

Arrival and Day 1

Wednesday afternoon, the members of the UK core of WWITMan arrive at San Francisco airport. They make their way through the formalities and go to collect the two rental cars that are waiting. On arrival at the hotel, the rooms are allocated and the core members separate to settle in, agreeing to meet in the hotel restaurant for the evening meal.

During the evening meal Robert calls at the hotel to see if they have arrived. Seeing them there, he joins them for the meal and spends the rest of the evening with them.

The following morning, Mike goes into the office early in order to support the e-meeting that is scheduled to take place with the UK location. Dave and Stan go in about 09.00 and go directly to the cubicle that is kept permanently available and equipped for visitors from the UK location. They spend some time checking their e-mail, discussing the ones that affect them both, and then Stan goes off to see some of his colleagues. He is keen to use the opportunity to have some one-to-one individual meetings and has planned several of these. This morning he plans to see three people. Some of the people he wants to see this week are directly relevant to his work, but others are more relevant to the other projects with which he is involved. In addition to the three planned meetings, he also manages an ad hoc chat with the lady who organises the USIT newsletter. Their chat results in the idea of UKIT adding a column, "What you should know when visiting the UK site." Meanwhile, Mike has returned to the hotel to catch up on some sleep as the e-meeting was cancelled. At lunchtime Robert takes Dave and Wayne to lunch at a local restaurant where they chat informally.

After lunch, there are two parallel meetings arranged—one on AV events and one on the web infrastructure. Specific people have been identified to attend each meeting, but the meetings are also open to anyone in USIT. Ray and Stan host the web infrastructure meeting while Mike and Robert host the AV events meeting. There are several people at the latter meeting, and Robert starts the meeting by having the attendees introduce themselves. Mike then shows a video about the electronic meeting room at the UK site. Occasionally, he stops the video to clarify a point. When the video finishes, Mike takes questions and Robert makes notes of issues on two flip charts. An hour before the meeting is due to finish, Robert stops the meeting, suggesting they step back from the fine detail of issues and take a wider view. He explains what he has been noting on the flip charts. Discussion continues. Towards the end, they feel that the meeting has been so useful that, despite the fact that the aim of the meeting was a "get to know you" meeting, they will make a list of action items after all. The main issue to come out of the meeting is the need for someone to fulfill a "producer" role at each site, as local knowledge is essential. Mike and Robert agree to write up the contents of the meeting. Mike would also like the information to go to some people involved in a related project.

Meanwhile, Stan and Dave have been in the web infrastructure meeting with Ray, Graeme, Chakaka (who arrived this morning), and some members of Ray's and Graeme's teams. Again, although the intention of the meeting was not to come away with action items, it resulted in some decisions and recommendations. Stan has made notes that will be translated into a set of minutes.

That evening Robert arrives at the hotel to go for dinner with the UKIT people. They also look for Chakaka, but are unable to find her.

Day 2: Friday

Mike and Wayne go into the office early for the e-meeting that was cancelled yesterday. Stan and Dave go in later and, as a first step, check their e-mails. All the UKIT people then go to a pre-arranged meeting about Business Controls with Graeme, Robert, and Carol (a member of Ray's team), and Chakaka. The topic for this meeting is one that has come from the planning document. Ray is supposed to be co-hosting the meeting with Wayne, but he is not there. They call him to see if they should start the meeting or wait for him. He's been detained and will arrive later, so he asks Graeme to take his part for him. As they work through the topic. Graeme makes notes on a PC. The notes are visible to all on a large screen. Similar to yesterday's meeting, some action items and areas for collaboration come out of the meeting. There is general discussion about the topic, and in some cases one core asks the other core for advice about how to tackle specific issues. The answers tend to take the form of stories: "What we do is," "Do you remember when?"

Towards the end of the meeting, nothing has been heard from Chakaka, so Robert asks her directly what the situation is in Japan. He is endeavoring to include her so that she does not feel on the periphery. Chakaka explains the situation and procedures in Japan. She has some printed comments on a sheet so Robert has copies made for all the participants.

After the meeting, Stan goes off to have some more one-to-one meetings about some of the different projects in which he's involved. Wayne, on the other hand, co-hosts another meeting that is about another topic from the planning document: the Year 2000 issue. His co-host is Doug Hall. Doug is a member of Graeme's team, and he is the USIT Year 2000 Manager. Dave, Chakaka, and Robert are also present. Wayne takes the points that were on the original schedule and writes them up on the board as an agenda. He then starts by bringing Chakaka into the conversation by asking her directly if there is anything she wants to discuss. She wants to talk about Y2K patches, so Wayne adds this to the agenda. Dave then brings everyone up-to-date regarding progress that has been made at the UK site. As he does so, Wayne makes notes on the whiteboard. Robert summarises the differences between the US and UK locations, pointing out that they still have "Chipmunks." This is a new term to the UK people so he explains that they are 98/36 workstations, Series 200 Models. Doug points out that they have been limited with contingency planning to some extent as they have had to wait for a document from Corporate IT. This document has now arrived, but there are a number of gaps in it. Wayne asks if Doug can forward the document to him. Ray arrives and Dave summarises what has been discussed. Doug reads from the corporate document that they (USIT) are considering closing all outside transactions for December 31, 1999, and switching off all non-critical applications. This is immediately criticised on business grounds by most of the people present, but it is Mike who immediately points out several technical reasons why the idea is unsound. Dave asks Ray what USIT will be doing about personnel. He suggests they might use contractors, but Robert points out that they would prefer to use their own personnel because of the experience and local knowledge they have that would not be available in a contractor. Doug proposes a USIT meeting to take this further, but the general feeling is that a WWIT meeting would be more beneficial. Wayne notes some action items, and the meeting closes.

After lunch, Wayne works on preparing a presentation, and Dave co-hosts another meeting based on a planning document topic. This topic is crossgeography systems management, and he is co-hosting it with Carol. Ray is also present along with three other members of USIT. Dave is the only UK member, here but he has made a point of speaking with one of his team, Nigel, back in the UK by phone before the meeting. They work through the five points that were on the schedule. Some problems are raised and issues discussed, and gradually they feel they are starting to move forward in the area. During the discussion, one of the USIT people feels the discussion has exposed a gap in his knowledge. Dave suggests it may be worthwhile talking with one of his team, Nigel, in the UK.

The final meeting of the day is also based on the planning document. It is about the computer networks in the company and is co-hosted by Robert and Dave. There are only two other people present: Chakaka and Kirnan (from USIT). Robert introduces Chakaka and Kirnan. He then starts the meeting by referring to an illustration that Chakaka had given him about the Japanese network. Chakaka asks about the UK situation, and Robert uses an overhead projector (OHP) to show an overview of the Local Area Network (LAN) in the UK. He then describes the American LAN. The discussion then becomes very technical, and the meeting closes with Dave feeling that good progress had been made.

The Weekend

Mike had made plans to visit a friend in San Francisco, and Chakaka has gone shopping, so Dave, Stan, and Wayne go for a drive into the country with Robert. That evening, Dave, Stan, Wayne, Chakaka, and Robert go for a meal. During the meal, the talk turns to the next joint meeting, which will be in the UK. Chakaka expresses disappointment that she will not be able to attend because of budgetary constraints. Wayne and Robert both want her included and immediately both say they will find some arrangement to enable her to travel.

On Sunday, Robert has commitments and Chakaka also has something she needs to do so they decide to meet up afterwards and go to the cinema. The UKIT team takes the rental car and drives down the coast. In the evening, the WWITMan team (and a few others) is invited to a barbecue at Doug's house.


The WWITMan team is supposed to meet with centre directors at 09.00 but find the meeting is suddenly cancelled as the centre directors have been summoned to Head Office for a meeting there. Instead, WWITMan starts preparing for the two-day off-site session that is scheduled to be held at a remote location on the coast. Stan takes the opportunity to visit someone on Graeme's team who will be working with Gary (in Stan's team) on the roombooking system.

The main meeting of the day is a presentation by Chakaka and the UKIT people to all of USIT. Each of them talks a little about his or her roles and the roles of their teams. The aim of the meeting is simply to put names to faces, a "getting to know you" meeting. Dave, Wayne, and Mike all base their presentations, to a large degree, on their sections of the planning document.

Stan finishes off the morning by having another one-to-one meeting. Again, it is with a member of Graeme's team who expresses his appreciation of the support and knowledge of Gary and DaveW (on Stan's team) in the development of solutions. He's intending to meet up with Gary at a forthcoming conference.

After lunch, there are two meetings scheduled. Ray and Dave co-host the first one about security, and Ray and Stan co-host the second about messaging and directory services. In the evening, WWITMan members (along with an external facilitator) leave for the coast for the off-site. During the off-site, they want to brainstorm as a group and decide a long-term plan as to what they want to do over the coming three years. It is intended that this will be more a strategic plan than the tactical level planning embodied in the planning document. The aim is to create a strategic document for the group, probably over two or three iterations.

Tuesday—The Announcement

Early on Tuesday morning, Stan goes for a walk along the coast. When he returns, the others are excitedly discussing a rumour of a major reorganisation. The group goes into overdrive, using all its teamworking skills and all the communication facilities available (mostly mobile phones) to find out more information. On hearing that the rumour is true, they decide that there is no further point in developing a strategic plan as the situation is so fluid, so they abandon the off-site and return.

That evening all of WWITMan go out for a meal together.

The Final Two Days

At 06.45 the UKIT team goes into the office to set up a coffee-talk[10] for Bristol by a senior manager. The same talk is due to be presented in California at 09.00. After this, Stan meets with Graeme. They have met before and they have worked together electronically, but as Graeme has taken over from Don, Stan appreciates the opportunity to spend some time with him one-to-one and discuss who does what on the Applications Team. Then WWITMan meets as a full group to discuss how it will meet the re-organisation of the company. The overall head of WWITMan, Dan, is present and the WWITMan staff is priming him with the concerns and issues to raise at a senior level. There is a real sense of activity in the building—Robert himself has been in four meetings already this morning. Many issues are raised and discussed. Everybody applies knowledge or experience of some sort; for example, the legal aspects are touched upon, and some people have no knowledge in this field so are informed by those who do. At the end of the meeting, the attendees all feel happier simply for having done something and having something with which to move forward. The following day, Thursday, Mike has some one-to-one meetings arranged and Stan has an e-meeting scheduled. This is in fact a tutorial for "Eroom" administrators. DaveW from Stan's team is at the UK end. Stan follows this meeting by calling on some people for opportunistic chats. While all this is happening, Wayne, Dave, and Robert go and meet people in Corporate IT. This building is located a mere 200 yards away, and the UK people feel that there should be some scope for collaboration.

Dave leaves on the Thursday. Stan, Mike, and Wayne stay on for another meeting on Thursday afternoon and two on Friday morning. Friday afternoon, Stan, Mike, Wayne, and Chakaka all depart.

[10]Coffee talk: essentially a communication meeting for all of the employees in a business entity (usually a business unit within the organisation) with a general manager. They are management driven in that they are scheduled by the general manager and are a primary vehicle for him/her to share "strategic" information about the business, for example the progress being made, the direction it is taking. They also include a lot of more general information such as the introduction of new employees, visitors from other locations, upcoming events, employee reward and recognition. Although the general manager leads the meeting it is usual to have a number of speakers covering specialist topics, for example IT issues, Research and Design projects. One of the useful facets of the coffee talk is the way it acts as a place to "legitimise" things, for example if a speaker needs the organisation's support to do something or to introduce a new policy then it can be presented at the coffee-talk, after previous discussion with the general manager. Thus the message automatically has the support of the general manager.