Which comes first- systems or culture? I’ve wrestled with this question in recent years as I’ve worked to build a strong KM strategy for my company, an international humanitarian relief organization. A systematic knowledge base removes barriers to access and encourages use. Yet simultaneously, an established knowledge sharing culture is necessary before staff voluntarily contribute knowledge assets, such as lessons learned.
Recently I’ve situated myself squarely in the camp touting culture over process. At the foundation of any thriving knowledge sharing culture is trust. Trust overcomes the obstacles of competitiveness, power imbalance, organizational hierarchies, and fear of failure. Trust between knowledge users builds authentic relationships, and relationships are the soil in which knowledge sharing flourishes.
As I write this, I am en route to the Philippines for an inaugural knowledge sharing event. AgriLEx 2019 will bring together 35 humanitarian professionals from 17 countries to share their projects with one another, highlight lessons learned, and foster collaborative group discussion centered on innovation, adaptation, and application. This event is not about top-down training from expert to novice; at its heart, it’s about lay-led grassroots learning. It takes a distributive approach to organizational knowledge- one that posits we each have something to share, and we can learn from one another.
Early in the planning process, the facilitators agreed stronger relationships would be an indicator as to whether the Learning Exchange was a success. There are many ways to integrate this into a KM strategy, but I’d like to highlight five ways we seek to accomplish it this week.
Trust overcomes the obstacles of competitiveness, power imbalance, organizational hierarchies, and fear of failure
1. Champion the hidden figures.Identify the unexpected experts in your organization and give them a platform to share what they know. These can be unsung heroes who’ve faithfully excelled in their role for years or traditional mid-level leaders regularly engaged in mentoring others. Subject matter expertise typically pools in hidden corners of the organization, and grassroots learning celebrates, captures, and shares that knowledge.
2. Provide personalized support.Subject matter experts (SMEs) are not necessarily trainers. Provide your unexpected experts with the support they need to properly share their knowledge. Engage your L&D team to develop their ability to transfer knowledge through effective learning methodology, and provide them with resources to do so easily, such as speaker guidelines and templates.
3. Show hospitality.Care for learners by meeting their needs, elevating their comfort level, and most importantly, displaying warmth and humility. This puts learners at ease, removes barriers between mere acquaintances, and encourages an environment of trust and supportive collaboration.
4. Come together around the table- literally. Use meal times to connect learners and build relationships that go beyond organizational knowledge. This organic, unstructured time together will encourage informal knowledge sharing and spark opportunities for dialogue and spontaneous insight.
5. Plan for sustainability. What will learners be expected to do when they leave the learning event? Plan how learners can maintain relationships in the months following, and provide them with easy next steps they can immediately put into practice. Create templates or follow-up resources that make it easy to share what they learned with others.
The above strategies will help nurture effective knowledge sharing through relationships, but they are just first steps. The real work is embedded in a culture change that embraces trust, mutual support, and the organizational mission. Only then will the systemsyou’ve put in place make a true impact.