Monday 22 June 2009

Motivation and the Peer Assist

I received a comment on my Peer Assist post the other day, asking “what is the (motivation) basis for assisting … what is (the motivation) for those participants helping you in solving your problems?.is it on basis of pure knowledge and experience sharing?”

So I thought I would explain firstly the issues of motivation and reward, and secondly how you select people to assist you.

In my experience, people agree to turn up at a peer assist because they are flattered to be asked, or proud to be asked. It is quite a recognition of your value if you are asked to travel across the world, or across the country, to help another team. It feels good! Also there is a degree of curiosity involved. Peer assists can be very interesting events – you learn a lot about the other team!

In the event itself, there needs to be free and open sharing of knowledge, and provided the event is well structured, held at the right time in the project, well facilitated, and covering a discrete topic (with well defined scope and objectives) then free and open sharing usually results. The facilitator can help by doing some ice-breaking, maybe getting the assisters and the team together the previous evening for dinner, for example, in order to build a sense of common purpose. If the project team really want to be assisted, then the motivation for the assisters is in doing a good job, helping their fellow company employees, and solving an interesting and tricky business puzzle. Peer Assist is an enjoyable and creative process. I used to love being invited to peer assists, and to be able to concentrate for a couple of days on a real problem, to which I could bring my experience and knowledge. I was motivated by interest, curiosity, challenge, pride at being asked, and a desire to make a difference.

One thing to bear n mind about Peer Assist, is that it is one of the few truly two-way Knowledge Management processes. Both teams learn from the effort; the assisting team returns home with a broader knowledge base, and the inviting team is able to use the lessons and advice.

There are a number of ways in which peer assist can go wrong, such as when it falls into “attack and defend” behaviours, or when the project team doesn’t really want to be assisted, but are going through the motions to “tick the peer assist box”. Here you will need excellent facilitation to rescue the situation.

There should be no extrinsic reward to the peer assisters. They should not be paid to attend. Generally the best approach seems to be that the assisters give their time for free, but that the project team being assisted pay for travel and expenses.
When it comes to selecting people to attend the peer assist;

  1. They should truly be PEERS. In other words, they need to be the same level of seniority as the members of the project team who will be at the peer assist. The CEO of BP, Lord Browne, pointed out in his article on KM that “"the politics accompanying hierarchies hampers the free exchange of knowledge. People are much more open with their peers. They are much more willing to share and to listen". So if you want a management review, ask managers to attend. If you want a peer assist, with free unhampered exchange of knowledge, ask peers. Don’t mix the two groups.
  2. They should have diverse backgrounds, knowledge, and experience relevant to the objectives. Don’t just ask the “usual suspects” – look widely inside and outside the organization. I have been involved with some great peer assists where they invited partner companies, or non competing companies, in order to get some real “out of the box” ideas.
  3. Ask your community coordinators, and search your company expertise locator, to find people you don’t know who have relevant expertise. Ask your network, ask widely, and you may be surprised who turns up and where the best ideas come from.

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