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Digital technology at the service of innovation communities of practice in Groupe SEB

Professor in Management Sciences

IAE of Nice, University of Côte d'Azur

*Faculty member of the Business Science Institute


Article originally published on The Conversation France

This article is published as part of the French Management Review's inaugural showcase, "Innovation and Digital: What Managerial Implications?" to be held on September 27, 2017 at the Château de Wiltz (Luxembourg) from 6:30 to 8:00 pm. In partnership with the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology, and The Conversation France, this event is organized on the occasion of the Business Science Institute's DBA (Doctorate in Business Administration) graduation, whose juries bring together some 30 management science professors for 17 DBA thesis defenses of doctoral candidates-managers.

Many companies choose to set up communities of practice in the field of innovation. This is a network of people involved in innovation who share their knowledge, expertise and experience by interacting on a regular basis. This research aims to contribute to a better understanding of the adoption of digital tools by members of communities of practice.

The empirical study was conducted within Groupe SEB, a French multinational company specialized in small domestic equipment. It is based on 63 semi-structured interviews conducted with members of the community of practice studied. The analysis shows that it is essential to adapt digital tools to users' expectations. It also highlights the important role played by the innovation department in steering the animation of the community of practice.

1. Setting up the innovation community of practice

In 2011, Groupe SEB's innovation department decided to create a community of practice in the field of innovation called the "Innovation Community". The establishment of this community meets four main objectives:

  • the development of cross-functionality between the business units ("cookware", "electrical cookware", "home and personal care");

  • the animation and acceleration of innovation;

  • the pooling of intelligence work;

  • capitalizing on existing knowledge.

To achieve these objectives, the group has set up a coordination system, in particular by recruiting a community coordinator. This coordinator's mission is to organize and create links between the members of the community to facilitate exchanges and thus encourage innovation.

2. The choice of the digital tool for the community of practice

To facilitate exchanges between members of the community of practice, Groupe SEB decided to adopt a digital tool called "What If". This is an internal social network that takes the form of a virtual collaborative space. There are several reasons for setting up this platform. The digital tool is primarily intended to facilitate exchanges via a dedicated space following the physical meetings organized.

It is also intended to promote cross-functional and informal exchanges between members of the community who are geographically dispersed over several sites in France. Its use should also enable the sharing of strategic intelligence results between community members. Finally, the platform aims to facilitate informal exchange and coordination between members. In the collaborative tool, each sub-community has a "wall" of conversations on which members can post and exchange, as well as a library that allows members to capitalize on the content they have created and then find the documents with key words. To be able to consult the content of the wall or the library of a sub-community, it is necessary to join the sub-community. The creation of sub-communities encourages the exchange of information on the different themes.

3. User feedback on the digital tool

After the implementation of the "What If" digital tool and the creation of the sub-communities, the innovation department conducted telephone interviews and a survey of 400 members of the community of practice. The objective was to assess the community's facilitation system in order to prepare a facilitation plan. The survey showed that, three months after the tool was implemented, 32% of respondents had never visited the "What If" page.

Community members suggest improving the speed and ergonomics of the tool, increasing the number of exchanges and inviting external people into the community. They also identified barriers to sharing and exchange, including differences in issues and contexts, and lack of time to devote to the tool.

Several respondents suggested including participation in the life of the community of practice in the annual appraisal interviews, since this is, according to them, "the only way to free up time".

4. The animation plan set up by the innovation department

The interviews conducted as part of this research and the anonymous survey carried out by the innovation directorate allow us to better identify the expectations of the members of the community of practice.

They lead to the development of a facilitation plan that aims to facilitate the adoption of the digital tool by the members of the community and its associated sub-communities. The facilitation plan includes several short- and long-term actions (see chart 1).

Chart 1: Actions in the Community of Practice Facilitation Plan

The animation plan implemented had a positive impact on the adoption of the digital tool by the community members. It has resulted in an increase in the number of memberships, posts, questions and comments.

The physical meetings organized - innovation days on specific themes and cross-cutting issues - have also contributed to the development of the community of practice.

This text is adapted from the article written by Lusine Arzumanyan and Ulrike Mayrhofer (Magellan Research Center, IAE Lyon, Université Jean Moulin Lyon): "L'adoption des outils numériques dans les communautés de pratique : le cas du Groupe SEB", Revue Française de Gestion, Vol. 42, N° 254, p. 147-162.

Article translated from French with


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Ulrike Mayrhofer's articles on The Conversation France.

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