Wednesday 13 February 2013

KM as therapy - how learning can have spin-off benefit

[25/365] On the couch (Explored) One of the spin-off benefits of Knowledge Management is the culture change it can bring with it. The core dialogue-based processes such as after action review, peer assist, retrospect etc are all themselves agents of culture change.

However they can have other spin-off benefits as well. When I am facilitating a retrospect, particularly from a project that has had its troubles, or was a bit of a disaster, it almost feels like I am conducting a group therapy session. If a project really was a bad experience, then it really helps the team to be able to talk about it in an open and non judgemental way. And that's what a retrospect is; it's a session where you talk about what happened in a non judgemental way. It's a no blame process. (As I often say, when teaching the skills of Retrospect, that we will ask What, How and Why - What happened, Why did it happen, and How do we ensure it doesnt happen again - but we never ask Who).

People at the session really appreciate if the chance to talk through the problems and challenges, and even more they appreciate the commitment to identify and apply lessons which make sure that similar projects will not have to go through the same trouble as this one did. It's more than just the chance to talk, it's the opportunity to make a difference.

This feeling of "Therapy through Learning" comes back strongly when I recall an exercise I did on an offshore gas rig a long time ago. This visit was in the aftermath of a merger where things had not gone right, and where the staff on this particular rig had ended up with a real feeling of grievance and anger. I spent a couple of days on the rig conducting learning interviews, and people were very forthright about the feelings that they shared with me. I came away with a whole list of learnings for the future, and I was sitting in the departure room waiting for the helicopter, feeling emotionally quite exhausted, and one of the roughnecks I had spoken to walked past. Seeing me he stopped, came over and shook my hand and said "I just want to say thanks mate. It was really good of the company to send somebody out just to listen to us".

That's when I realized that, although the learning was the primary objective from this exercise, it had not been the only benefit, and even if all I had done was listened, I would have still added real value.

1 comment:

Lisandro Gaertner said...

Therapy is a learning process too. You need to understand why you cling to one behaviour (what do you gain from it) to dispose of it in order to acquire a new one. Most companies are "neurotic" and the talking cure process has good results. But when we are dealing with other kinds of organizational disorders, maybe we need other therapeutical tools more related to behaviour change therapy then to psychoanalysis.

I believe the need for KM is a symptom of neuroticism. If a company is able to learn from its mistakes, change without much pain and revalue what it is and what it wants to be, they don't need KM, because they are already doing it. ;-)

The ability to learn and change is the greatest sign of sanity on people and organizations.

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