Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Setting an enabling environment for knowledge sharing

Fancy IT systems and a web of processes and procedures will not increase the flow of knowledge within an organization if the culture of the organization does not value or promote knowldege sharing.  In fact, "setting an enabling environment is fundamental to allowing sharing to happen naturally" (my emphasis added to fundamental), say Chris Collison and Geoff Parcell in their book Learning to Fly: Practical Knowledge Management from Leading and Learning Organizations.

Collison and Parcel looked at knowledge management within organizations from a variety of contexts, and determined that there are some common threads.  In particular, an enabling environment has been achieved by:

  1. A reinforcing leadership style, which challenges and encourages learning and sharing.
  2. Encouraging the right behaviours; behaviours that acknowledge peoples strengths, involve active listening, challenge the status quo, develop relationships and build trust.
  3. Taking the time to understand each other, developing shared beliefs and a common vision.
  4. Building facilitation skills to enable people to find their own solutions.
  5. Good change management capabilities, for example include those affected in the planning, the execution and the outcome.
  6. Collaborative working and learning together from shared experiences.
  7. Common technology that connects people, removes barriers, and makes information widely available.
As I read these seven points for creating an enabling environment for knowledge to flow, I immediately saw similarities with the seven challenges for a learning organization described by Bob Chartier in his book Tools for Leadership and Leaning, building a Learning Organization, and indeed, the role of the Learning Organization Community of Practice in my own organization.

In his book, Chartier describes seven challenges that must be overcome to enable leaders to tap the team's collective wisdom and to share decision-making.  These are:
  1. Shared vision and values
  2. Personal mastery
  3. Systems thinking
  4. Mental models
  5. Team Learning
  6. The Learning Vessel
  7. The art of conversation
Overcoming these seven challenges is the central domain of knowledge upon which the Learning Organization Community of Practice in my organization is focused.  Facilitation is the practice community members engage in to help the organization overcome these challenges.

It is not hard to see the links between Collison and Parcell and Chartier, and I have tried to map the linkages below:
  • A reinforcing leadership syle --> Mental Models
  • Encouraging the right behaviours -->  The art of conversation, personal mastery
  • Taking the time to understand each other --> Shared vision and values
  • Building facilitation skills --> LOCOP
  • Good change management capabilities --> Systems thinking
  • Collaborative working and learning together -->Team learning, The Learning Vessel
The mapping is not perfect and one could probably see other ways to map the two authors' key points together.  Also, Collison and Parcell's point about building facilitation skills does not link to one of Chartier's challenges, but is one of the objectives of Chartier's book and also an important role for the Learning Organization Community of Practice in my organization. Still, the mapping serves to illustrate how the efforts of our Learning Organization Community of Practice are helping to set the enabling environment for effective knowledge flow in our organization. Sometimes, the culture change, which is slow and subtle, goes unseen in the light of other flashy IT products like wikis, search tools, forums, blogs and directories of expertise.

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