Tuesday 25 August 2015

How to apply micro-KM to a dispersed team

We are used to thinking of processes such as knowledge exchange and peer assist as large-scale specific events, held for members of a Community of Practice to exchange knowledge about a topic. However knowledge transfer can also take place at a much smaller micro-scale, and with much less formality, during normal meetings. 

The context here is a dispersed team such as a regional sales team, working individually most of the time, but getting together for team meetings on an occasional basis. This is a good opportunity for them to share knowledge with each other, ask for help and advice, and share best practice.

The manager of such a team needs to not only set the culture that allows such exchange of knowledge, but also to set the expectation and provide a structure that ensures exchange of knowledge.  They can ask questions and provide prompts such as these -

  • “Susie, you've had a very successful month, can you share with us what you did, what you learned, and what you can recommend to others?” 
  • “John has some big challenges on his account, can anybody think of things that he could do to turn the situation around?” 
  • “Guys, it looks like we are all facing a challenge on this particular brand, can we put our heads together and pool what we know to decide the best way to tackle it?

The following quotes are from a survey we ran of sales managers and sales reps. The quotes not only show the value of micro-knowledge exchange in team meetings and team conference calls, but also show the influence of the manager in driving this behaviour.

 “We are each other’s only resource. Somebody will figure something out when they’re doing their work, and then, whenever it comes up as a question for somebody else, we all just have to work together and share our learnings and pass it on, to speed things along on the learning curve. Our boss doesn’t know our system as well as we do, and we can teach each other. Whenever we have questions, we usually go to each other before we take it anywhere else”.  
“There's a lot of sharing that goes on within the team, and before that we were pretty much just silos. There's probably something that comes out of every meeting where someone is saying, "Does anybody know how I can get past this roadblock?" or, "Is there something that I could do to help facilitate this?" And there's been a lot of times where someone else on the team said, "Here's how I've been able to accomplish that." Or, "Have you thought about talking to this person in this department?" Most of the time somebody within the team can propose a solution”. 
“You need to take all of these opportunities and make them learning opportunities to try to make the team better. Really look for Best Practices. It’s not just “Look at that (sales) number, you’re down, you’re here, you’re whatever”. It’s “Hey Jim, it looks as though you were at 125 a year ago, what do you attribute to your success? Why do you think you’re doing so well”? And do that in a group conversation. And then if somebody’s down, “What are the issues that you are facing right now? Is there anything that we can help you with”?”. 
 “(Our sales manager) is always looking for successes that one person that has and trying to find ways that those successes can be transferred to other accounts. He doesn't just go into one area and say, "Well, so and so did this, and I want you to try it," instead, he's really good at facilitating the communication between the various field managers so that they're sharing the successes and working on solutions together for each other's accounts” 
“Don’t be afraid to ask your peers questions (in these meetings). “I’m a new account manager, new to the channel or new to the business.” Pick the brains of the sales reps that are currently on the team”. 
“When you identify some of the key learnings someone else from on the team will say, “Hey, you know what, I had that same experience, this is what I did which was better and different, and you should try that approach”. Or, “Hey, have you tried to ask so-and-so in the national office for resources to help get that project completed?” So you review it as a team, you talk about the key learnings, you talk about some shortfalls, or the misses, then you know other people can share experiences and it will help that person or will help the entire team”. 
Finally here is a quote from a sales team member who is new to this sharing culture, and recognises the value it brings.

“I think it’s great because I worked previously in a world basically where I was out on my own in a very unique group, and so did not have a lot of that sharing that took place amongst my fellow peers. And coming to this new group, it is quite the opposite. We have this information and it flows freely and I just think it’s great because you can feel comfortable saying, “I have to work on a presentation coming up; I’m getting ready for this certain project, does anybody have anything that may help me here?” And people send information; I think that’s a very positive thing about our team”.


Hendri Ma'ruf said...

I think you are indirectly saying that in order for such a case to happen (where people would ask and share freely), the culture to support it should be there at first; or at the least the sponsor at that level (such as a manager) must be there initially to construct the sub-culture.

(Hi Nick, it's to know you're such a productive blogger, aside from being a consultant and trainer.)

Nick Milton said...

Thanks Hendri

You are right that the culture, in this case, must be driven by the manager.

(It was good to meet you yesterday- see you later!)

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