The Asker/Helper culture – why these are the core behaviours of KM

A recent McKinsey article, if you read it carefully, suggests that the core KM behaviours for group effectiveness are Asking and Responding.

Ask (always)The McKinsey article entitled Givers take all: The hidden dimension of corporate culture is a really interesting article, describing a study by Harvard psychologists of the US intelligence system in order to determine what makes intelligence units effective. By surveying, interviewing, and observing hundreds of analysts across 64 different intelligence groups, the researchers ranked those units from best to worst, and looked at what made the best ones so good.

Conclusions of the study are as follows:

  • The single strongest predictor of group effectiveness was the amount of help that analysts gave to each other.
  • Across these diverse contexts, organizations benefit when employees freely contribute their knowledge and skills to others (what McKinsey refers to as a Giver culture, where knowledge is freely shared, in contrast to a Taker culture, where it isn’t)
  • Giver cultures depend on employees making requests; otherwise, it’s difficult to figure out who needs help and what to give. In fact, studies reviewed by psychologists Stella Anderson and Larry Williams show that direct requests for help between colleagues drive 75 to 90 percent of all the help exchanged within organizations.

So in fact the single strongest predictor of group effectiveness is the amount of “asking for help” that happens, and the Giving/Helping response. So it would be more accurate to talk about an Asker/Helper culture rather than a Giver culture.

It is possible to develop an Asker/Helper culture – the article talks about an exercise called a Reciprocity Ring, which is a face to face version of the Question-driven communities of practice we see operating so successfully as part of mature knowledge management programs. Peer Assist is the archetypal Asker process, which always generates a Giver response. Many of the standard Knowledge Management interventions act as culture change agents in their own right to promote the behaviours of asking and of giving.

So if you are interested in creating the KM culture which is “the single strongest predictor of group effectiveness” – remember that knowledge sharing is 75% to 90% of the time a response to Asking.

Aim for the Asker/Helper culture (as I suggest in this video).

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