Reality check of knowledge sharing and networking in a project team

January 28, 2016 | Blog-Admin1 | Learning Elsewhere |


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Carsten Schulz

The end of an assignment offers a great opportunity for reflection.  Carsten Schulz shares some of his “take away points” as Team Leader with Georgian experts in a market systems development project. He underlines the importance of creating, using and sharing knowledge in a project context. “Knowledge is like a garden: if it’s not cultivated, it cannot be harvested.” A sharing and learning culture needs to be cultivated and cared for by the leader and requires action and engagement of all team members.

Carsten Schulz, currently working for GIZ in Armenia

Knowledge is like a garden: if it´s not cultivated, it cannot be harvested.
From Africa

Gardening KM1

Photo: Nadia von Holzen

“Knowledge is like a garden: if it´s not cultivated, it cannot be harvested”. Reading this African Proverb, which was painted on the wall of a seminar facility, reminded me of my last assignment.

I was working as Team Leader with Georgian experts in a market systems development project in rural Georgia. Although the assignment finished some time ago, I am still in the process of reflecting it. What I liked most when reading the proverb, was that it requires action. Without cultivation, no harvest – no matter if it is vegetables or knowledge. Especially in small teams, it is essential that not only the team leader, but all team members are understanding the importance of creating, using and sharing of knowledge.

At the very beginning of my assignment, I started a conversation in my team about the importance of knowledge sharing among team members. I clearly remember one statement made by a team member: “Why should I share knowledge with my working colleagues? When everybody knows what I know, I am losing power”.

After working for almost 2 years with my team and introducing a variety of tools and techniques without anything special – just by doing it, I am confident that we did improve knowledge sharing in my team. What makes me so certain about this? Before we started our annual planning meeting last year, we reviewed all actions taken in the previous year. My colleagues didn’t hesitate to fill in the flipchart sheet “failures – what do we need to avoid in the future” with constructive feedbacks. What a great success and a clear indication that an appropriate cultivation leads to a good harvest of results after some time.Gardening KM 2

Photo: Nadia von Holzen

Here are some of my “take away points” on knowledge sharing and networking in a project team:

1. A sense of curiosity by all team members is essential

2. The tools and techniques applied depend on the cultural background you are working in. Therefore: Have a look at the cultural dimension of knowledge sharing in the context you are working in and how team members are usually sharing knowledge. Then, choose your tools and techniques and make them becoming a normal practice.

3. The leader of the team must be the example and behave in a way, how he or she wants to see other colleagues dealing with information and knowledge sharing.

4. A positive leadership should encourage all team members, that knowledge sharing is something normal and therefore a task for everybody. Furthermore, outputs and products must be defined in line with the institutional principles and clearly communicated. We, as an example, were working on a feedback culture by receiving and providing open and constructive feedback to all team members and were working in the direction of a “failure culture” within the team.

5. Team meetings, sharing events, exposure visits and lessons learned sessions need a foresighted planning. The same applies with writing case studies or small resources papers for capturing knowledge. Don’t forget: allocate time and financial resources for all these actions!!

My question to other project managers or team leaders: Do you agree with my condensed “take away points”? What are your tips and tricks being a “gardener”, which you want to share with others?

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Comments to“Reality check of knowledge sharing and networking in a project team”

  1. Ernst Bolliger says:

    Dear Carsten
    Thank you for sharing your reflections about team learning. I especially liked the hint regarding the cultural dimension: What works well here does not self-speaking work there.
    You are asking for practical hints and tricks for gardeners. You mention one key-hint yourself in the first point: Curiosity! In both roles, as a team member and a team leader I made best experiences by encouraging all team members to ask questions, and asking questions myself.
    I feel something makes a big difference in sharing knowledge: The offer (“I want to share what I know”) and the demand (“Please share with me what you know”). Asking for coaching (demand) provokes normally a more intensive knowledge sharing than presenting what I experienced last week. It is somehow like with fruits on a market: They taste better, if you want to buy them — compared to those the market tender would like to get rid of.
    Best knowledge sharing starts with a question.
    All the best for knowledge sharing in your new team in Armenia! Lots of curiosity!
    Ernst Bolliger

  2. Nadia von Holzen says:

    Dear Carsten, I love the gardening metaphor to describe what we actually do in knowledge management and organizational learning. It’s exactly as you summarize it: “A sharing and learning culture needs to be cultivated and cared for by the leader and requires action and engagement of all team members.” Cultivation and care, and the curiosity Ernst is emphasizing, are not only and purely intellectual. There is an emotional and social dimension. I am truly convinced that exactly these emotional and social dimensions are crucial for learning. The encouraging role you played as team leader is nurturing this culture because you care. Best, Nadia


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