Wednesday 10 June 2020

Why the "Working Teams" dimension is important in KM

We hear a lot about communities of practice and social networks in Knowledge Management, but we should not lose sight of the other dimension of the knowledge equation - the work teams.

Image from wikimedia commons
Work teams are often the way work gets done in organizations, and a team of knowledge workers is effectively a knowledge team. Any complete knowledge management framework needs to cover the team dimension, because teams create knowledge, and teams use knowledge.

Teams create knowledge

Knowledge is related to activity—you learn from experience, from ‘doing things’. In most of the companies to which Knoco consults, ‘things are done’ by teams. In the oil industry, construction industry, engineering, mining, television, etc, most of the big work is done by multidisciplinary teams, and therefore, the organisational unit for reviewing that work is the team.

Please note that although Knowledge  is related to activity, it actually comes from reflection on activity (see posts on the importance of reflection, and 6 benefits of reflective team learning). A team will not collectively create knowledge unless they reflect collectively. This will not happen unless you do it deliberately. Most team communications are action-oriented (What have we done? What needs to be done? What will we do next) rather than reflection-oriented (Why did these things happen? What did we learn? What can we improve?). To introduce reflection, you need to introduce reflection processes and methods; not just assume that will reflection will happen during normal team discourse.

Some of the more familiar methods for reflective Knowledge creation and capture within a team/activity/project environment are the after action review and the retrospect. These are processes for structured discussions between the team members to identify any new lessons and new knowledge which has been created during the activity or the project.

Teams apply knowledge

Teams create knowledge, but they also seek, re-use and apply knowledge. They need to learn from others in order to perform their tasks effectively. Team learning can be organised through the use of a Knowledge Management plan, and will involve processes such as Peer Assist where the team talks with other experienced practitioners to draw on their lessons.

Teams manage their own knowledge

Teams need to manage the knowledge they are creating, where it is specific to the team (knowledge which is generic, and applies to other teams, needs to be managed by the communities of practice). You may need to introduce team knowledge technology to help manage this knowledge.

Much of the Team technology such as Trello, Zoom, MS Teams etc are designed to manage activity, connectivity and work products, not knowledge. You probably need a team lessons log, and potentially a team blog and a team wiki as well, so long as the blog is used to summarise and share reflections and knowledge rather than to share progress and activity reports.

Communities of practice share knowledge

If the work teams create and apply knowledge, then the role of the communities of practice and the social media is to provide a mechanism to transfer this knowledge from one work team to another on a daily basis. 

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