Do you know how to enable knowledge transfer in companies?
HOW TO ENABLE KNOWLEDGE TRANSFER IN COMPANIES
Hi guys, in this blog post I want to explain how to enable knowledge transfer in companies.
I have been working on this topic a lot, and I believe it´s time for me to share it with all of you.
Why Should You Care In Enabling Knowledge Transfer In Companies?
For you to understand the importance of knowledge transfer at companies, I will tell you a small story.
Some months ago I had an opportunity to catch up with a friend who works as an Agile Coach. During last summer the company he works at had serious issues with knowledge transfer, and that almost forced them to close doors.
It´s a startup company, and like all startups, fast delivery is mandatory to survive. Because of this constraint, the company´s rule was that team members could not take holidays at the same time. They would need to organise their vacations to have 2/3 of the team working. Until last summer, each person within the team was responsible for different tasks; there was only one person responsible for a common task.
Summer came, and during four sprints there was always someone on vacations. What happened was something predictable, the team did not deliver almost anything during those four sprints (2 months) because there was always someone missing with needed knowledge to deliver parts of the stories. This missing knowledge within the team was almost critical to the company.
Until last summer, this team never cared with knowledge transfer. Now my friend told me that nowadays the company invests a lot of time to avoid the same problem again. I am pretty sure many other companies will not be so lucky if something like this happens to them. More and more it is crucial for companies to create a culture that promotes knowledge transfer within their organisation.
This problem is present in many companies, not just in startups. There is a lot of knowledge within our companies, but very few have structures in place to enable this knowledge to be spread.
The speed of our society is another challenge for companies. There are so many startups appearing on a weekly basis that companies that are on the market must be innovative. They must find new ways to improve their current offer and delight customers.
In summary, what we need to create is: “Learning Organisations”.
What Is A Learning Organisation
The concept became popular through the work and research of Peter Senge, especially his great book: “V Discipline“. Below you can find another interesting definition from others.
A learning organisation is the business term given to a company that facilitates the learning of its members and continuously transforms itself.
— Pedler, M., Burgoyne, J. and Boydell, T. 1997. The Learning Company: A Strategy for sustainable development. 2nd Ed. London; McGraw-Hill.
Learning organisations have mainly five characteristics (source: Wikipedia). O’Keeffe believes that the characteristics of a learning organisation are gradually acquired, rather than developed simultaneously.
Systems thinking: Learning organisations use system thinking when assessing their company and information systems that measure the performance of the organisation as a whole and its various components.
Personal mastery: The commitment by an individual to the process of learning is known as personal mastery. There is a competitive advantage for an organisation whose workforce can learn more quickly than the workforce of other organisations.
Mental models: The assumptions held by individuals and organisations are called mental models. To become a learning organisation, these models must be challenged. Individuals tend to adopt theories, which are what they intend to follow, and theories-in-use, which are what they do.
Shared vision: The development of a shared vision is important in motivating the staff to learn, as it creates a common identity that provides focus and energy for learning. The most successful visions build on the individual visions of the employees at all levels of the organisation.
Team learning: The growth of individual learning creates Team learning. The benefit of the team or shared learning is that staff grow more quickly, and the problem-solving capacity of the organisation is improved through better access to knowledge and expertise.
How Do You Create A Learning Organisation
Learning organisations have structures that facilitate learning with features such as boundary crossing and openness. In this part, I will explain what we have created at the company where I work right now.
A long time ago I learned that if you want to implement something different in organisations, you need to find a group of people who share the same vision. This is exactly what we did; we were able to assemble a group of people who were interested in creating a learning organisation.
We all knew there was a lot of people much knowledge. But these people did not have a way to share their knowledge with others. So we gathered together as a team to generate ideas to create a learning organisation. I, as an Agile Coach, identified three different levels, at which we could make a difference:
There are various activities within teams:
Sprint Learning Sessions
One of the teams I coach defined one of their core values “learning”. They are very strict about their values, and they decided to create a learning sharing session on a sprint basis. Every sprint they get together for one hour, and they share whatever they think it´s interesting for others.
Another activity that we ramp up is Book Club. Every month the team chooses a book they wanna read. After reading it, the team members discuss interesting points from the book and how they can apply what they learned into their daily activities.
At this level, the activities are made to reach people outside of the regular team.
We run this kind of events two times a year at our company. I do not have words to describe how much this activity is a great asset to any company. Wikipedia defines it as:
A method of large group moderation for structuring conferences. It is suitable for groups of about 50 to 2000 participants.Characteristic is the substantive openness: Participants to enter their own topics to the plenary and make this included a working group. In these potential projects are developed.
The results are collected at the end. Important is an infrastructure that organized the implementation of the resulting project ideas, for open space can produce a wide variety of concrete measures in a short time.
We bring all software development and product people together, and we run a full week of Open Space. It´s extraordinary to see how knowledge is spread among people. In my opinion, this kind of activity brings another huge advantage, the social part. This is a great way for people to know each other and to improve their relationships.
I strongly advise you to start something like this at your company.
Another great event that we run twice a year. As for the Open Spaces, we bring all software development and product people together, but here the idea is a bit different. Some companies call this type of event “FeedEx” days.
In this kind of event, we create a list of “crazy” ideas that people wanna try to implement. People choose teams they wanna work with. Ideally, by the end of the Innovation sprint, you will have several features that can be shipped to the clients.
This kind of event is fantastic. It would not be the first time that I would see completely new products being born. The energy, innovation and knowledge generated by these Innovation Sprints are something outstanding that everyone should try at their company.
This is similar as the Sprint Learning Sessions. The difference is lunch talks are done on the organisational level instead of team level. The company I work with tries to ramp up such session every two weeks. There is a schedule for this session and whoever wants to share something with the rest of the organisation simply adds a topic in the calendar.
In my previous experience, these lunch talks were so successful that my colleagues ran them every week.
There are several ways how to run these sessions. My favourite is:
Lightning Talk is a short presentation; it differs from conference talks because it only takes few minutes.
Brown bag is an information session, where people usually get together to have food or drink. The goal is to use regular breaks, for example, the lunch break, to convey information. Brown bag sessions often are characterised by voluntary participation and an informal atmosphere.
I am sure you saw many other formats, but these are enough to give you an idea.
Chapters and Guilds
Chapters and Guilds are around for many years. Recently, Spotify made them popular with their “Spotify Scaling Framework” document.
Spotify defines Chapters as a small family of people having similar skills and working within the same general competency area, within the same tribe (to know more about tribes, please read the whole document).
Each chapter meets regularly to discuss their area of expertise and their specific challenges. For example, the testing chapter, the web developer chapter or the backend chapter.
A Guild is a more organic and wide-reaching “community of interest”, a group of people that want to share knowledge, tools, code, and practices. Chapters are always local to a Tribe, while a guild usually cuts across the whole organisation. Some examples are the web technology guild, the tester guild, the agile coach guild, etc.
A guild often includes all the chapters working in that area and their members, for example, the testing guild includes all the testers in all testing chapters, but anybody who is interested can join any guild.
At this level, the activities are made to get knowledge from people outside of the organisation. For example, at my company, we are in the process of creating a shared calendar. We hope to be able to track the most important events happening in the community.
Organise Internal MeetUp
Organising MeetUps can be a great way to enable organisations to become more knowledgeable. This is a great way to bring external knowledge into our companies. Having a different person on a monthly basis to present us something different is a great way to teach our internal employees.
There is another great advantage of organising this kind of events. The company will get a lot of visibility as a cool and innovative company, which can help them recruit new talents.
Participate in External MeetUp or Conferences
In this case, the company sends their employees to external MeetUps. The interaction here is quite high. There is a high probability the employees will be part of very interesting discussions.
The knowledge acquired in this kind of interactions can be distributed internally using different formats explained in this blog.
Skype Talks with External Speakers
Another great way to bring external knowledge into our companies is to invite external speakers to our companies.
Some time ago I coached a team that was eager to start MOB Programming. They were a little bit lost because they did not know where to start.
At that time I asked Woody Zuill if he could attend a Skype session with my colleagues and me. He was super nice, and he accepted to have 1-hour call with us. We had a fantastic session about MOB programming. The team had the opportunity to ask him several questions, which allowed them to get ready to start.
Today, the same team works almost 90% of their time using MOB Programming. They followed Woody´s advice and they-they deliver a lot of value on a weekly basis.
Inviting very knowledgeable people to a Skype chat can have a tremendous impact.
What if you do exactly what I explained in this blog post? What do you think it will happen to your organisation? What if you follow these instructions?
I cannot promise anything, but I believe that organisations that follow these ideas will be extremely successful. They will be able to beat any competition.
In a previous post, I mentioned that today’s society was completely different from the society a hundred years ago. The pace of is unpredictably fast and chaotic. The predictability is not present anymore.
Organisations must be fast, must innovate and must adapt to their customer needs. Decisions cannot be made in a central way anymore. This would be too slow and not efficient for companies. To solve these problems companies need to trust their employees.
Companies should enable them to decide what is the best for the customer and help them to solve their problems. This requires companies to self-empower people and give them freedom to decide what is the best for the current environment.
Employees are the future of our organisations! As it was explained before, organisations learn trough individual employees so let´s create an environment, in which employees can create the company of the future.
Working with Me Or Evolution4all
I have developed the “Organisational Mastery” product. The aim of this product is to create a coalition that drives change and internal innovation alongside shared knowledge throughout the organisation. It’s extremely suitable for companies that want drastically improve the alignment between executive leadership and delivery teams.
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