Get Your Team to Share Information that Matters Most

Blog Topic: 
Sharing Hidden Know-How

This is an interview between Wayne Turmel, author of the Connected Manager Blog on BNET, and Kate Pugh author of Sharing Hidden Know-How (Jossey-Bass/Wiley, 2011) The topic of the conversation was, "How do managers of virtual gatherings help get out tacit knowledge?" The actual blog post (abbreviated) is at the Connected Manager Blog May 20, 2011. (View the BNET post using Chrome or firefox; IE is not working as of 5/25/11)

What challenges do managers of remote teams encounter in building trust and getting out tacit knowledge?

A participant at a talk I gave recently came up to me and said, “Every time management asked me to train someone, I knew I’d be losing my role within the year. I became very cynical.” For many organizations, knowledge is power. You are valuable to your boss because you can do something she can’t simply automate or move offshore. It’s even more unsettling when you are remote and much of your brilliance is invisible to many of your teammates. So, when management asks employees and teams to talk about what they know, they may put up their guard.

On the other hand, motives for not sharing knowledge may be far less fear-driven. I might not share with you because I don’t know what you need to know. (Or, I don’t know that I have any knowledge that could be even remotely valuable to you.) I want you to succeed, but I can’t see your whole context. “I didn’t know you might be meeting my client at the conference!”

What tools should they be using (and an example of how to use them?)

Great managers use both process facilitation and real-time facilitation to overcome challenges of protection or unawareness such as these. From a process perspective, managers invite the right people (people who know and people who could apply the knowledge), along with the right types of questions to draw out insights on a topic. From an engagement perspective, managers set a tone of curiosity, attend to the extremes (loud or silent), and model a language of respect.

For example, with the Knowledge Jam process, I call together a few participants before-hand to flesh out topics (for example, “What led you to know we were on the right track?” “What formulations didn’t work, and how did you change course?”). Also, I do one-on-ones, making sure that people come ready, and the more defensive people can imagine personal benefits of knowledge-sharing. Then, during the meeting, in real-time, as I type into the Webes/LiveMeeting/Googledoc (or whatever), I ask questions using a posture of openness, rather than defensiveness. I help people to find language that’s both respectful and reflect-ful. I also reach out to the silent people, connecting the conversation to their interests, and invite them to jump in and ask questions or add comments. After all, it’s the participants’ conversation. I’m just a catalyst and cheerleader.   

What are some groundrules leaders and facilitators need to establish in order to get true communication going?

Here is the list of ground rules I typically flash at the head of the Knowledge Jam conversation:

  1. Be responsible for inquiring/pushing the collective thinking (“Common curiosity”) 
  2. Use data (illuminate points of view or positions)
  3. Drive for clarity with questions, but not judgments
  4. Speak one’s truth 
  5. Ask the group for permission to digress or probe (use a “parking lot” liberally)
  6. Pay respect / don’t interrupt
  7. Pay attention (laptops, mobile devices off)
  8. Share outside the room only as agreed-upon by the group

The bottom line is to prioritize the group’s shared knowledge ahead of yourself. I call this “common curiosity.” A ground rule I give myself is never to hold a Knowledge Jam conversation longer than 90 minutes. Anyone can pay attention for 90 minutes if the conversation is meaningful and aimed at informing action.

What are the 3-4 things (as specific as possible) that need to be said or done and what happens if they don’t?

Prework pays off: Having people enter the virtual room with a sense of purpose and curiosity is the result of the one-on-ones and topic-setting. (We all know how scattered conversations can be without an agenda or alignment on why we’re there.)

Openings matter: You have to set the stage (and even re-set the stage) to keep people thinking on several levels -- our collective insights and the intrigue in the moment. (Our virtual lives are chaotic, and we need help shifting gears.)

Make it Explicit: Typing the notes in a structured way on Webex or LiveMeeting or GoogleDocs slows the meeting down and makes people reflect more on what they and others have said. When you see your words captured or paraphrased, you know you’re being heard. (Have you ever attended a “leave no trace” meeting?  Did you wonder if it all fell on deaf ears?)

Finally, Put knowledge to work: This isn’t the responsibility of the manager/facilitator but of the participants. But, you can increase the likelihood that action will follow if you give the people who are applying the knowledge to say what they’ll do with it, before they leave the virtual room. And it can’t hurt to keep those intentions alive in future plans or meetings. (After people have shared their insights, they hope to make an impact. Letting it drop without explanation can be like an insult.)

This seems quite elementary  -- plan, do, act – but when you do these steps intentionally and with the right tone your remote meeting participants will feel heard, respected and enlightened.  And you’ll increase the likelihood that good ideas get put to work.


Katrina Pugh’s Bio

Katrina Pughis author of Sharing Hidden Know-How(Jossey-Bass, Wiley, 2011), and is president of AlignConsulting. She formerly was VP of Knowledge Management for Fidelity, Senior Technical Program manager for Intel Solution Services, and held leadership roles at JPMorganChase and IBM. Connect with Katrina Pugh on Twitterand LinkedIn.

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