Team Work Skills
According to Stephen Denning, management guru, knowledge sharing only takes place on a significant scale where companies have organized themselves into Communities of Practice (CoP). These communities need to be "integrated" to the company's strategy and its organizational structure. The phenomenon of communities of practice is known under different names. In the World Bank, they are called thematic groups; in HP they are "learning communities" or "learning networks;" in TexacoChevron, they are called "best practice teams" and in Xerox they are known as "family groups."
Whatever the terminology, companies are making concerted efforts to share knowledge: BP, Eli Lilly, Ford, Xerox, Best Buy, Citibank, HP, to name just a few. TVA (the Tennessee Valley Authority) has formalized a process to document one job at a time, focusing on those jobs in which attrition matters most. TVA conducted interviews with employees and supervisors to determine the knowledge content of each job, focusing on four knowledge factors:
Importance: Would not knowing something cause major or minor losses? Would it affect customers as well as employees? Would the loss affect one more several locations?
Immediacy: how long does it take to transfer the knowledge? will the losses be sudden or gradual?
Recovery: what is the cost for recovering each item? Can we recreate it with the people we still have?
Knowledge Transfer: how difficult is it to transfer this knowledge?
METHODS FOR SHARING KNOWLEDGE
Most of the really important knowledge in a company defies codification and is nearly impossible to put into a document or database. Sometimes the perfect tool is a video camera. Short videos in which "experts" explain a process or concept can be stored and retrieved as digital files. The video captures the oh-so-valuable body language, vocal inflections, hand gestures and other paralinguistics that can make tacit information easier to absorb.
Sponsor a Knowledge Fair
Knowledge sharing requires a horizontal organization (rather than vertical) in which departments can collaborate across borders. Meetings, hierarchies and budgets are vertical in orientation. New rituals will need to be established to facilitate horizontal work processes. One such ritual is the Knowledge Fair. Flexible, open and non-hierarchical, the fair puts on display the knowledge activities and communities of practice, making them physically accessible to a section of the staff, and in some cases, partners and customers. People can see what other departments and divisions are working on, interact with each other, and share resources and team work skills.
Corporate Yellow Pages
Do you know who can answer your questions? Finding an expert can be difficult. But building a "corporate yellow pages" of employees and their areas of expertise can be very helpful. Some of our clients have expanded on this idea and included individual photos, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Type, professional goals and "best way to contact" information. People appreciate an opportunity to be creative and express themselves, so the more leeway you can provide in this area the better.
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