Why you need to place some demands on the knowledge sharer

Sharing knowledge is a two-sided process. There is a sharer and a receiver. Be careful that making knowledge easier to share does not make knowledge harder to re-use.

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Sharing knowledge is like passing a ball in a game of rugby, American Football or basketball. If you don’t place some demands on the thrower to throw well, it won’t work for the catcher. If you make it too undemanding to throw the ball, it can be too hard to catch the ball.  Passing the ball is a skill, and needs to be practised.

The same is true for knowledge. If you make it too simple to share knowledge, you can make it too difficult to find it and re-use it.  In knowledge transfer, the sharing part is the easier part of the transfer process. There are more barriers to understanding and re-use than there are to sharing, so if you make the burden too light on the knowledge supplier, then the burden on the knowledge user can become overwhelming.

Imagine a company that wants to make it easy for projects to share knowledge with other projects. They set up an online structure for doing this, with a simple form and a simple procedure. “We don’t want people to have to write too much” they say “because we want to make it as easy as possible for people to share knowledge”.

So what happens? People fill in the form, they put in the bare minimum, they don’t give any context, they don’t tell the story, they don’t explain the lesson. And as a result, almost none of these lessons are re-used. The feedback that they get is “these lessons are too generic and too brief to be any use”.  we have seen this happen many many times.

By making the knowledge too easy to share – by demanding too little from the knowledge supplier – you can make the whole process ineffective. 

There can be other unintended consequences as well. Another company had a situation as described above, where a new project enthusiastically filled in the knowledge transfer form with 50 lessons. However this company had put in a quality assurance system for lessons, and found that 47 of the 50 lessons were too simple, too brief and too generic to add value. So they rejected them.

The project team in question felt, quite rightly, that there was no point in spending time capturing lessons if 94% of them are going to be rejected, so they stopped sharing. They became totally demotivated when it came to any further KM activity.

 Here you can see some unintended consequences of making things simple. Simple does not equate to effective.

Our advice to this company was to introduce a facilitation role in the local Project Office, who could work with the project teams to ensure that lessons are captured with enough detail and context to be of real value. By using this approach, each lesson will be quality-controlled at source, and there should be no need to reject any lessons.

Don’t make it so simple to share knowledge, that people don’t give enough thought to what they write.

The sharer of knowledge, like the thrower of the ball, needs to ensure that the messages can be effectively passed to the receiver, and this requires a degree of attention and skill. 

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