Building Organizational Know-How: How to Transfer Knowledge (Part Three)
My last post looked at internal team transfer, whose emphasis is on conducting a post-project completion debrief, and where the knowledge generated is intended for retention within the team. The U.S. Army’s After Action Reviews (AARs) were featured. Today, I’m talking about inter-team transfer. That’s fancy talk about transferring lessons-learned to other teams that are involved in similar work or projects and which are linked to business results.
The focus is on explicit (documented) knowledge; therefore, it can be shared quickly with minimum effort. In addition, the emphasis is on routine tasks, not those that are special or unique.
The use of virtual knowledge transfer is becoming increasingly useful as a means of sharing knowledge. This can be done through such means as video-conferencing, email, Skype and web-streaming. Use your available technology to its max, but keep it simple. Trying to get fancy or sophisticated usually causes more grief in the end.
The recipients of this type of knowledge transfer must decide how best to use it. Specifically, people need to determine what’s important and what’s not to their work. And then they must decide how to share it effectively with others.
Within organizations, private or public, there are big implications for how their intranets are set up, especially if this is the primary knowledge dissemination vehicle. For one thing, there’s the danger of corporate databases being too generic, thus making access to specific information difficult. In addition, it’s key to have a solid understanding of the interdependencies among the business units and functions. In short, inter-team transfer is not done in a vacuum.
A number of years ago, following a huge government reorganization which involved the mergers of several departments and downsizing, I had an opportunity to put into practice an inter-team knowledge transfer process. Briefly, I had initiated a consultation process across the organization in which employees were given the opportunity to participate in a series of one-day learning events. The overall aim was to promote better understanding of the four organizations that were merged together: their corporate cultures, key business lines, clientele, major issues, etc.
Over the span of two months, 19 one-day sessions were held in six cities, at which senior management AND the head of the union were given equal floor-time. Yes, you heard it here. The head of the union was invited to each session and was given equal floor time. Imagine that!
It was an incredible experience, the highlight of my three-decades public service career, to see people–staff and managers–so buzzed and charged up. When you bring four organizations (departments) together you’re bound to see culture clashes and huge tensions and fears.
Following the process, the organizing committee I chaired and the local facilitators (who were employees) met offsite for two days to assess what had happened over the previous two months and what we could document and share with the rest of the organization, which was spread across Canada. The two-day debriefing session proved to be not just an incredible method in which to capture voluminous amounts of tacit knowledge from the some 40 people (local organisers, facilitators, admin support, etc.) but also a way to recognize them for their hard-earned efforts.
Subsequent to the release of the report I wrote for my bosses on the results of the consultation process, other parts of the department across Canada contacted me because they were intrigued with what we had just accomplished. But to be honest, this wasn’t rocket science. The whole process was about treating people as human beings with brains and the ability to think creatively and contribute meaningful to the organization’s future. And inviting the union, as a key stakeholder, to be part of the planning process from the start treated its executive with the respect they deserved.
When you engage in a process in which you want to retain and share what you learn, it’s vital that you document (codify) your learning and results. Otherwise they fade to history, leaving successors to start from scratch. Fortunately I still have the report I wrote, some 15 years later, though I’m probably the only employee, now a retiree, with the complete tacit knowledge of the entire process.
Please take a moment to share any of your experiences in the areas of knowledge transfer, team learning and sharing best practices.
The obscure we see eventually. The completely obvious, it seems, takes longer.
– Edward R. Murrow
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