Peer Assist


Next month marks my tenth year as an independent consultant.  How time flies when you’re, well, learning to fly…

Favorite-things

As I look back over those years, and the privilege of working with 120 different organisations, there are many high spots (as well the odd moment I’d prefer to forget!).  One particular type of activity stands out as my favourite, running a knowledge-sharing and learning consortium.

Let me explain how they work, and why they are so effective.

They typically start with a conversation initiated by a client which goes something like this…

“We keep going to conferences and feel like we’re hearing from the usual suspects, and seeing the same glossy presentations, but not learning anything new.   Could you find us a number of peer organisations to learn from and with – and facilitate a number of high-intensity meetings for us?”

And in a nutshell, that’s what a knowledge-sharing consortium is: a limited series of meetings between different organisations at similar levels of maturity with a commitment to openly share and learn. You could say that it’s the perfect blend of a Community of Practice and a Peer Assist, with a brilliant mix of non-competing organisations.

I have co-facilitated my consortium programmes with my good friend and consultant colleague Elizabeth Lank. It takes the energy and abilities of two facilitators to help 25 participants get the maximum benefit from their investment. You need to give it everything you’ve got. I know that both Elizabeth and I end each event with that feeling of “positive-tiredness” that comes after the last member has departed happy and the celebratory G&T has been poured, to help with our After Action Review.

So thank you to Schlumberger, Shell, BT, Unilever, GSK, Freshfields, Oracle, ABN Amro, Syngenta,  Pfizer, PwC, Freshfields, NHS, Audit Commission, the International Olympic Committee and others – thank you for making those events so memorable and enjoyable.

Here are my reflections…

Lessons, recommendations and design principles for a knowledge-sharing consortium.

  • Forming a consortium works best when there is a founding organization – a client with a need and a curiosity and desire to learn. Recruiting and inviting other participating companies is so much easier when you can say, for example, “Schlumberger are looking to learn from some other great knowledge companies about maximising the value from Communities of Practice. Would you be interested in joining us?”
  • We found that 4-8 member organisations worked best. Any less than 4 and members feel that they are exhausting the possibilities for learning. If you go much higher then 8 and it becomes too difficult to sustain relationships or remember what was discussed – you end up with something more like a conference.
  • Ask for 2-4 participants per company. This enables them to provide members from complimentary functions in their own organisations, and gives a critical mass for company break-out moments when they create space and time to consider “what will we do with all the good practice ideas that we’re picking up?. It also enables them to share their own story from multiple perspectives.
  • The series of meetings (usually 3 or 4 over a 12 month period) is deliberately time-bound, with a clear end in mind. This gives a focus and a helpful sense of urgency to extract the maximum value from every hour of each event.
  • Invest in forming relationships right from the start. Ensure each event has an over-night stay in a pleasant venue, great food and drink, space for informal conversations. Ensure that people have bios or social media profiles available, and include early ice-breaker events which make use of this information and get the group laughing together.
  • Ensure that there are sessions where participating organisations tell their story (as creatively as they like – you might chose to ban PowerPoint from some sessions). Balance this time evenly between telling and asking questions. Do everything you can to make it unlike a conference!
  • Solve real problems brought by the participants, as early as the first meeting. This sets the tone not just for subsequent face-to-face meetings, but creates the expectation and openness to request and respond.
  • Have fun together! We’ve incorporated treasure hunts, photo-safaris, museum trips, role-play, board games, playlists and karaoke into the designs in order to create memories, bind the group together, and, well enjoy having fun!
  • Make full use of artifacts. If every picture tells a story, then physical objects can write a book. We’ve curated displays of awards, posters, t-shirts, stress balls, card games, mugs, books, calendars and quizzes and explored their effectiveness at length. It’s been brilliant to see some consensual stealing-with-pride going on between the members.
  • Stay flexible. The best-planned agenda needs to be sacrificed if the group collectively choose to go somewhere else. We’ve learned to build in flexibility and use methods like Openspace to keep the power of choice firmly in the hands of the participants.
  • Vary the methods, techniques and tools – and debrief their use with the participants. We have found that our participants have really valued the use of new techniques. We’ve introduced reverse brainstorming, appreciative inquiry, project retrospects, social reporting, knowledge asset creation, social network mapping, speed-consulting, peer assists – and some experimental techniques which evolve on the day. Every time we use a technique, we review the outcome and the process and encourage reflection in company teams on how they can be adapted for use.
  • Focus facilitation on the process rather than the content.  Elizabeth and I are both frequently called upon to speak as experts on knowledge management and collaboration, but in a room with 25 experienced practitioners, our focus is usually on helping them to learn from each other – and just interjecting with the occasional story or 10 minute context-setting session.
  • Keep the discussion going between events. We’ve successfully used Google Sites, teleconferences, vlogging, individual telephone calls and even good old email to keep the party going between face-to-face events, and to build anticipation for the next meeting.

kdp

Stop press!  We’ve had an approach from a large international company who want to participate in a consortium focusing on effective collaboration, virtual working and network/community building, and we have just started the search for suitable consortium members.

So if this an area that your organisation has experience with, and you’re particularly interest in joining with some peer organisations to learn more, then please contact me for details.  I can guarantee it’s even better than raindrops on roses…

Slide1

Is it true that the best things come in small packages when it comes to knowledge?

I came across this helpful framework for thinking about the way we approach the packaging and sharing of knowledge. (Thanks Elizabeth for spotting it).


jit

Just in Case.   That’s been the unspoken but underlying mantra of many KM programmes. Let’s capture everything – all of those documents, lessons, transcripts and store them in a folder, just in case we need them in the future. It’s like archiving, but without the indexing rigour that a professional would apply.

So when that moment of need does arrive, it’s often too difficult to extract than insightful nugget or reusable example. It can be like rummaging through the rubbish bin to find that set of keys you dropped. You get messy and frustrated trying, then you give up and get a new set cut.

 

Now of course, there are often procedural and legal reasons why we do need to store everything associated with a particular individual or process – but we should watch out for tendencies to become Organisational Hoarders!

 

Just in Time.   One of Dave Snowden’s truisms is “you don’t know what you know until you need it”. We need a way to harness current knowledge and recent experience right in our moment of need. We’re not going to do battle with the SharePoint search function, and we’re not going to read through a pile of case studies or lessons learned reports in order to separate the signal from the noise.

And how do we know that yesterday’s lesson will serve today’s problem? We don’t have time for that – we have a real need, a desire to satisfy that need right now and we can’t ask questions of our documents!

How do we best respond to that? Just-in-time points us towards the tapping of formal communities and informal networks, inside and outside organisations. It’s the domain of knowledge jams on Jive and Yammer, questions to our Twitter networks. Face-to-face, it’s a great place to use techniques like Peer Assists and  “Speed Consulting”. Sometimes those interactions will point people back to content and documents, but they cut through the noise and provide access to a willing army of experienced volunteers – when faced with a cry for help – are often only too willing to help.

 

Just enough.   I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one. Lack of time, and lack of strategic focus are two reasons why we end up with a Just-in-Case approach to content and documents.

Curation takes time, and it requires expertise. It’s best played as a team sport rather than an individual perspective – but it makes a huge difference when it comes to creating an asset which educates and informs the reader/learner.

Are we planting vast fields of information assets? Or are we harvesting fruitful knowledge assets?  The latter is designed to provide just enough – and also to enable digging on the specifics details

 

Just for me.   Perhaps that should be the ultimate goal of our work an KM professionals.  To be able to mine the riches of just-in-case knowledge, to deliver it  at the moment I need it, to hone it down so that it’s the perfect fit (not too much or too little) for my knowledge gaps and can be easily applied… and to do it in such a way that it’s tailored for my personal needs.  Now that’s quite a proposition.

ring

elephant-1

 

It shouldn’t surprise me after all this time, but it does.

I’ve conducted around 30 interviews in two different organisations in the last couple of months, as part of some KM strategy work.  The answers to the question: “what does knowledge management mean to you?” are often so varied, and usually include just one or two components or approaches . People have such different perspectives on what knowledge management is – and it’s rare for anyone to connect the different components together in any kind of holistic framework. “It’s about how we  get the right knowledge to the right person at the right time.  Oh and it’s to do with networks and conversations too.”

To be fair, knowledge management has been poorly defined and communicated in the external world, so it’s little wonder that people in organisations often approach it like the blind men and the elephant – each sensing a part, but not the whole, and drawing their own conclusions.

Here’s a holistic model for knowledge management. It isn’t new (it’s based on the model from BP in Learning to Fly)- but it’s still relevant and current today and does a good job of plotting a route through the KM landscape. Let me build it up for you.

Start with the day-to-day matter of performance management and project management, where people and teams agree to goals and targets in order to deliver value which generally takes the form of profits for shareholders – or value for stakeholders.

How do they do this? By using and developing knowledge – their own expertise, knowledge from the team, elsewhere in the organisation, from professional advisors or others outside the organisation.

Slide1

It’s a given that KM needs to connect directly to the goals and objectives of the organisation. So how does knowledge management improve, or accelerate the way in which they are achieved?

Firstly, through the application of learning.  Learning before, during and after activities.
Without learning, we end up recycling old knowledge and documents – trapped between “connect and collect”, but not creating anything new.

  • Learning before: how do we know that we’ve tapped into what the organisation already knows, and can we make sense of what it is knowing today?
  • Learning after: how good are we at really learning and applying lessons from stories of personal experience?
  • Learning during: do we have a culture of continuous learning, reviewing and improving?

Slide2

With processes for learning before and after in place, it’s important to manage the outputs of those processes – and to continue to refine, collate and curate a living, evolving, media-rich “knowledge bank”, from which withdrawals and deposits can be made.

Slide3

…but of course, the capture knowledge is just a shadow of the knowledge which will always remain in the heads of individual experts, and within networks of people with questions, answers, experience and ideas. The reserves in this human knowledge bank are far greater.
Slide4
These networks and experts play a vital role in collating and curating knowledge on behalf of the organisation.  They have the current awareness and they understand the most pressing business issues. Who better to steward the knowledge than an emergent community of subject matter experts and practitioners?

Slide5So now we’ve connected performance and project management with learning, learning with codification, and codification with networks, experience and expertise.  The final part of the model recognises the role that culture and leadership behaviours and actions play to sustain an environment where these processes can thrive and interconnect.

What motivates people to make the time to learn, connect and collate knowledge such that the value and efficiencies have a chance to flow through and create the stories to inspire others?  How can leaders reinforce and role-model this?

Slide6

It can take a little time to give birth to this kind of a supportive culture – but then again, elephants to have the longest gestation period of any mammal, so we shouldn’t be surprised.

Knowledge Management has become an ever-increasing suite of interconnected tools and techniques – it’s easy to feel overwhelmed without a map.

Having bounced some early ideas around with Geoff, and spent far too many idle moments at airports fiddling with PowerPoint,  I think it’s time to stop tweaking and start sharing.  So here it is: my rendition of the KM Landscape  (click to enlarge).

KM Landscape

I wanted to try and show the breadth of techniques and processes, the connections between them, and also some of our neighbouring disciplines and opportunities for boundary collaboration.

It’s far from perfect  (I need more than two dimensions to really do the juxtaposition justice) – but hopefully it’ll illustrate some new places to explore.

Let me know if you find any new destinations, landmarks or pub walks to include.

Minecraft is a phenomenon.  It has around 40 million paying players worldwide, and probably tens of millions more when you count those using free or pirated versions of the game. Merchandise bearing its logos – hoodies, wallets, necklaces – can be found wherever computer game spin-offs are sold. Its Swedish creator, Markus ‘Notch’ Persson, is rapidly becoming the kind of celebrity who needs a bodyguard for public events.

minecraft_5174167_lrg
If you’re not one of the 40 million enthusiasts, Minecraft is a popular online “survival” or “sandbox” game that puts players in a randomly-generated world where theycan create their own structures and contraptions – It’s often compared to a kind of infinite virtual Lego set, which can be played in creative mode, alone or socially, or in  survival mode, where the players have to defend themselves against attacks from various creatures.

Gaming website G4 describes it in an interesting way, which caught my eye.

“In a way, Minecraft is the exact opposite of most games out there. The focus is on exploration, not accomplishment. You can dig all day and find some gold, but the game isn’t going to reward you with anything but some gold. The presentation is secondary to the gameplay itself — your imagination fills in the blanks as opposed to an army of highly paid texture artists.  Minecraft doesn’t lead you through the same experience every other gamer has.  What you get is yours alone.”

Hold that thought, whilst we swap the world of Minecraft for the world of knowledge management.

I’m just finishing an assignment working with one of the largest construction programmes in the UK, advising and helping them with their approach to knowledge and learning.   It’s one of those times when there is no  immediate “customer” for the knowledge – to there is nobody to request a peer assist, hear a set of stories or receive a baton.  In this case, it’s collect rather than connect.

Here are the steps we’re taking together.

  • We designed some good open questions and a relaxed interviewing approach to elicit stories, examples, the basis for decisions, rules of thumb, documents, references and further contacts.
  • The interviews were framed a chance to send a “message to the future”, which helped gave a forward momentum and practical edge to the advice and examples.
  • Each interview was recorded and fully transcribed.
  • The interviewees concluded each session by providing a short video of their message to the future and top recommendations.  The most effective ones explained their points on a flipchart whilst on camera.

That gives us a significant resource of half-a million words, hundreds of recommendations, stories and examples, documents and connections to individuals.

The trick now is to avoid the temptation to weave everything together into a single version of the truth, complete with ten commandment top tips and a clearly defined path which leads the learner.  Instead, we need to take a leaf (block?) out of Minecraft’s book  and create a resource for which the focus is on exploration.

That will be the best way to serve a future team with as yet unknown knowledge needs – to help them find some gold.

Golditm

12-days-of-christmas-iTunes-header

(I know that technically it’s a bit early for this but here goes anyway…)

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

Twelve knowledge assets

Eleven open questions

Ten strategies

Nine knowledge cafes

Eight AARs

Seven deadly syndromes

Six social networks

Five lessons learned

Four knowledge jams

Three anecdotes

Two peer assists

And a tweet from the APQC

Click here to sing along from the start!
[audio http://www.chriscollison.com/documents/12days.mp3 ]

How the Beatles Share Knowledge!

I’m currently co-facilitating a series of consortium meetings with my friend and colleague Elizabeth Lank  for six leading organisations, all well known and well-respected for their KM capability.

One of the more light-hearted activities in preparation for the next meeting is for each of the participants to select a suitable “track to share knowledge by”, which has generated some fascinating insights, as well as providing us with a background soundtrack for some of the activities we have planned.

One band which cropped up repeatedly was the Beatles, which got me thinking, and digging through my own collection of Beatles singles – and I thought I’d share the outcome here (there and everywhere…)

Next Page »