Monday, 6 July 2009
Following on the theme of KM exercises and games, I was running a Masterclass today on Knowledge Transfer, and we did a little exercise, with some interesting results. The exercise went as follows
Three teams were given an identical set of 10 Lego pieces (plus a baseboard). For one team, the pieces were already made up into a structure, which we said was the Lego answer to the iPhone - the LPhone (the original LPhone is in the centre of the picture above). This team stayed in the main room, with this original structure in front of them, but hidden from the others behind a table.
The second team stayed in the main room as well, with their construction hidden behind another table, and were able to converse with the first team (though neither team could see the others' construction). The first team were able to talk the second team through how to build the LPhone, through dialogue and tacit transfer. The second team could ask questions to clarify the instruction they received. In the picture above, you can see the first team's original LPhone in the center, and the second team's "tacit knowledge transfer" version on the left. They are identical.
The third team were in a separate room. They were not able to talk with either of the other teams. Knowledge was transferred to them, from the first team, in a series of written notes. Knowledge transfer was therefore entirely Explicit - entirely through captured, written knowledge. Not only did the third team take more than twice as long to build their LPhone, the result (on the right of the picture above) was significantly different from the original in many ways.
SO why did the tacit transfer result in a faster, more effective knowledge transfer? When we debriefed the exercise we identified two success factors. Firstly the two teams (teams one and two) very quickly negotiated a common language to describe the lego pieces, and the orientation of the pieces (left/right, up/down, landscape/portrait). Secondly, whenever there was an inconsistency or ambiguity in the instructions, this could be resolved through questioning and feedback.
And why did the explicit transfer result in a slower, less effective knowledge transfer? Firstly there was no way to resolve any inconsistencies and ambiguities, so the receiving team (team three) had to use their best judgment (and one ambiguity early on had a knock-on effect on the design). Secondly, the order of the steps was not clear, as the notes which were sent through from the first team were not numbered. Finally there was no agreed language concerning orientation, or concerning the description of the lego pieces, which led to some errors.
SO what did we conclude? We concluded that knowledge should not be transferred only in written form, if tacit transfer (such as Peer Assist) is possible, though every participant reported that for their company, the default expectation seemed to be to capture the knowledge, rather than transferring it through dialogue. Secondly we concluded that there needed to be very good quality control on any explicit captured knowledge, to resolve any errors or ambiguities which might result in difficulties when applying this knowledge later.
This was a simple exercise, but with some very graphic learning points. It is one I recommend.