Real-life story from a workshop about knowledge transfer

September 22, 2010 | Manuel Flury | Learning Elsewhere |


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Manuel picture for sdclanBy Manuel Flury
Three words are written in big black letters on a flip chart in front of the workshop room: “CONTEXT”, “OPPORTUNITY”, “SOLUTION”. Eleven specialists from human resources, IT, project management from different Swiss Federal Offices sit behind the u-shaped tables – painted in the usual grey colour – in one of the training rooms at the lower floors of the Federal Office for Personnel Affairs. Outside of the room a remote lawn mower makes its eternal turns over the nice green in between two tall buildings. The summer weather would invite strolling along the nearby river Aare. In the mid-afternoon, the guest speaker takes the floor.

He is the Chief Knowledge Officer of a well-known audit and consultation firm. After some slides about strategies and performance of his enterprise he turns to the core of his speech: The ways his enterprise retains knowledge from leaving experts. “Retaining knowledge starts with induction courses, includes knowledge sharing throughout the employment period and culminates with a highly standardised handing over and exchange with successors. Moreover, as alumnae former collaborators remain connected to the enterprise.” He stressed the need for solutions that respond to the particular context of the organisation, choosing the right moment for improving knowledge management performance and emphasised the role of having senior management bought in.

The eleven individuals follow a one and a half day cadre training course co-organised by knowledge management units of four different Ministries. Right at the beginning of the workshop, the participants shared there experiences on how they have learned personally from their predecessors. Many have experienced a formalised handing-over and some even had the opportunity to meet the former person in-charge. In a second round of exchange the participants noted key words on cards indicating characteristics of their own Offices and Divisions that influence the way knowledge is shared and handed-over. Some pointed at conducive conditions such as: “Mentors for new employees”, “Informal exchanges”. In their majority, however, people pointed at hurdles such as “Office moves to a new place, many collaborators will leave”, “The four-year job rotation cycle does not allow building up of experiences ”, “Many “old” collaborators”, “Specialists remain individualistic, inward-minded lone fighters”, “Introduction of new work flow monitoring procedures” or “weak interest of the senior management”.

Towards the end of his presentation, the guest speaker turns to the board where the cards of the morning exercise are pinned. “Let us look at your context now. What you have noted down makes me immediately think at the opportunities your situation is offering for sharing experiences, even with your predecessors. Office moving offers the possibility to have office space for informal interactions or to allocate office space for more group interactions. Specialists may ignore sharing with less-learned colleagues but can be obliged to network with their external peers and to bring the state-of-the art into the organisation. Old collaborators might be interested in acting as mentors for younger colleagues. What counts at the end of the day is your ability as knowledge champions to be mid-wives for such most appropriate solutions in your own context.”

A perfect marketing speech! I remained fascinated having listened to the guest speaker. He talked over one and a half hour and never ever used words such as obstacles, impossible. His key words he noted on a flip chart were: CONTEXT, OPPORTUNITY and SOLUTION.


Comments to“Real-life story from a workshop about knowledge transfer”

  1. Ernst Bolliger says:

    Dear Manuel
    Thanks for this experience of positive thinking.
    In Psychology — if I simplify a bit — there are two main distinct attitudes: The “European attitude” (Freud & Co), defining problems, analysing them and finally (if ever) looking for solutions. And the “American attitude” (de Shazer & Co), speaking of opportunities and looking for alternatives.
    It seems, in Knowledge Management, the same two attitudes can be found.
    As a trainer for facilitators I am often asked how to deal with negative attitudes, i.e. seeing problems, having doubts, stating reasons why something will not work, having excuses for this and that.
    I often tell the following story:
    Repeatedly, I make a funny experience in various workshops, specially in retreats with teams. At the beginning of the workshop, I am inviting participants to write their (positive) expectations (outcome of the workshop, assuming all would give their best) on green cards, and their (negative) fears on red cards.
    The green cards we put visibly for all at a pinboard; the red cards we attached “upside down” at another pinbord, so that nobody could read what was written on them. And we covered tho red cards with a wall paper. Somehow to bury the fears, or at least to ban them …
    At the end of the workshop, I invite participants to comment on their expectations. And I give the opportunity to comment on their fears, provided the fears happened to be justified after all. If not, the participants could put their “fear-cards” in the waste-bin.
    So far, it never happened in any workshop, that a participant would have read out one of his/her fear-cards.
    I think, this is a nice way to invite “Europens” to act as “Americans”.


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