Thursday, October 30, 2008

Terrible teams doing wonderful jobs

(picture through the reality and fun blog)

I've been working with 3 Intercultural teams composed by people with various nationalities and I've been part of a 100% Dutch team, all teams of 6-8 people. The Dutch team has used a learning history to learn about their teamprocess. The 3 intercultural teams have done an individual self rating followed by a group discussion of their teamwork. The rating sheet I prepared for them was based on the definition of effective groups by Harris.

Effective groups:
Produce what customers want
Are able to do it again
Do it in a way that makes the members of the team feel good
(Harris, 2005)

It was interesting to see that the Dutch team had more issues of different perceptions of the work at hand and approaches to deal with it than the intercultural team, as you would expect the opposite. In a way, the Dutch team had more differences to bridge. Whether we all understand the Dutch way of greeting each other doesn't help you, when you have a different understanding of the way to work on this particular task.

Looking through the lens of the team development stages of Tuckman, two of the three intercultural teams managed to get to a level of effective performance, the third group seemed to still be in a kind of storming phase, and never got to the level of high team performance. Neither did the Dutch team. However, despite the fact that these two teams were not at the performing stage as teams, they managed to perform the task quite well. I guess this is my personal learning point- that you can have a sub-optimal teamprocess- but still perform a good task. The downside is that in these teams people are happy when the task is over and eager to depart! Another learning point is that taking time for bridging the difference is often hard when there is a lot of work to do, so it's tempting to just continue focusing on the task.

Have you ever been in a terrible team that did a wonderful job?

Monday, October 20, 2008

The institute for minimal impact knowledge management

Green Chameleon made a funny video about the institute for minimal impact knowledge management (KM). You can learn to be seen involved in knowledge management without disturbing your real work. It is really funny, making fun of appreciative inquiry, corporate vlogging, six sigma, knowledge cafes and complexity. Knowledge cafes- the more you talk about something the less you understand it and the less you want to do something about it. Complexity is a great contribution to minimal impact KM, the more complex you can make it appear, the less accountable you are for the impact. Can you win the 0 impact award?

Watch it here:

It helps in our study of monitoring and evaluation of knowledge management strategies: if you have become an expert in minimal impact KM, can you become an expert is showing the maximum impact of your minimal impact KM? Maybe that's an idea for the next course for the institute?

Dilbert adds to my last blogpost


Saturday, October 18, 2008

Impact assessment of knowledge management interventions

Let me use (part of) a rainy saturday afternoon to try and organize some of my new thoughts about impact assessment. We (team of 3) are doing a study about Monitoring and Evaluation of Knowledge Management Interventions. I have been in 8 interviews and read a pile of papers around this topic. We are blogging some of it on the Giraffe team blog on this topic. We are currently working on a draft of the publication hoping to do justice to all interviews and literature. Here are my personal insights- developments in my own thinking. When I worked in development project I wasn't always enthused about monitoring and evaluation, apart from some participatory impact monitoring (PIM) efforts. However, working with various communities of practice, I come across the need to monitor and evaluation the impact. After all, the aim is not to have a community of practice, but to have a functional community of practice and which functional I mean stewarding knowledge and innovating practices. What has struck me in the interviews and literature is the following:

1. One remarkable thing is the concept of Knowledge Management itself. It is such an accepted, ordinary term for me, but not all others. It is a discipline I like, because of its integrated nature, fed by information technology, psychology, social sciences etc. The people who have negative associations with the term seem to find it difficult to see how you manage 'knowledge'. Personally, I don't think knowledge management is about managing knowledge, but about managing knowledge workers, organisational structure, process and systems. In our definition it is very close to terms as Organizational Learning. Chris Mowles felt knowledge management is coopted too much by management science, but I don't think it is in the development sector.

2. I see that I need to be more careful in distinguishing between measuring (using metrics like nr. of kilos etc), assessing (to determine the value), and reading (picking up signals, evolving understanding). Often I used these terms interchangeably, but they are different. Reading organizations is a powerful term that we used in Ghana when I worked with SNV (thanks Laurent!), but it took some time to see the link with this subject, I think reading is underestimated. Formal evaluation exercises take quite some investment, but informal readings by actors and sponsors take place all the time. Maybe we can more often trust the informal readings by actors instead of waiting for the report of an 'objective' evaluator.

3. The need for distinction (and often separation) between a developmental assessment and an extractive assessment. The first type of assessment has the aim to improve the situation and make sure the actors gain insights themselves, upon which they can act. An extractive assessment (or sometimes called for accountability) is aimed at proving value to sponsors or donors who are outsiders, to secure continued support. I think it's useful to keep the two aims more often separate. Lumping them together in one process can be very dangerous, as you will never be completely open when you are keen to prove something. A developmental assessment, or 'monitoring in the service of learning' as CDRA has neatly coined has its limits there is an extractive purpose too. I'm not saying it is impossible to combine the two purposes in one process, I think it is very well possible where there are fairly equal, mature relationships between actors and sponsors. However, in the development sector this is always a tricky thing. Who judges? What kind of decisions will be made on the basis of the results of the assessment? I've done it too, evaluate a network with the purpose to 'learn' but at the same time, everybody is aware that the donor has serious doubts.

4. The language of learning is another powerful insight- the way you talk about learning, the way you experience learning determines your choice of knowledge management interventions and the way you measure. Do you belief in informal learning or in training or both? When the purpose of an assessment is extractive and the language of the sponsors is not aligned with the language of the assessment, it may not have the intended effect. Continuous conversations between the knowledge actors and the sponsors may be more useful in that case. But if a person doesn't believe in an intervention will he/she be convinced by an assessment? Probably only when accompanied by the right conversations, not by a report. Discuss what the change process is that the knowledge management should bring about and choose an appropriate way of monitoring the changes.

5. Balance the cost of an assessment with the expected outcomes - it was very, very remarkable in the interviews with people working in the profit sector, that the whole topic of monitoring and evaluation of impact of knowledge management interventions seems less relevant. Why invest in an assessment when as a manager you see that something is changing in the right direction? When the cost of the knowledge management intervention is relatively small? Unless the outcomes will really be the basis for a change in strategy, or a major decision, why do you want to assess the impact in the first place? The fact that impact is not formally assessed does not mean there is no impact and that people don't have a sense of the impact. Managers have to stay in touch with reality and trust their professional observations. Investments in a formal assessment may only be justified when it's really important and strategic to know. On the other hand, a very light mechanism may do the work.

6. The need to discuss and decide where you stop to assess impact. I am a big fan of the INTRAC ripple model. Which makes the distinction between output, outcome and impact very clear. Etienne Wenger shared another similar model, but focused on communities of practice. Using such a model, you can decide where you stop your assessment. Unless data is readily available going to further levels may mean investing a lot of energy in collecting information that may be useless. The further away from the centre the ripples are, the more uncertainty in attribution. I enjoyed the example of Mattieu Weggeman of a management team that was more open and collaborative. Only to find out that the director had fallen in love with a legal person and this relationship rather than the intervention changed his attitude. However, stories may go a long way in explaining changes in all their complexities.

7. Figures, stories and conversations
Etienne Wenger stressed that figures don't mean a thing without the stories explaining the figures. And without conversation about both, it is not likely that it will lead to change. I find it interesting that a person from outside the sector mentioned this, since in the development sector this 'rule' would apply even stronger because in the south the preference for oral communication above textual communication is even stronger. Chris Mowles added his observation that there are far too many monitoring and evaluation figures and reports, and far too little sense-making.

One thing I'm struggling with is how to avoid that stories become success stories. Maybe by focusing on the right questions?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Traces of how ideas travel

What do I have in common with Mark Gould, Dawn Foster and Richard McDermott? I wouldn't know but we are all mentioned in this blogpost in an unknown language :). I found it through tracking the referring URL to my weblog. I think this what is exciting about the online interactions. In the offline world, there is no way of tracking who is using your words, ideas, or who is talking about you. Unless you get some feedback. But online, it is much easier to track down what kind of ideas or blogposts get referred to. When you work in face-to-face communities a lot of impact may happen without anybody noticing for instance, ideas may continue to be told to colleagues, publications shared, ways of working copied. For online communities it must be easier to do so? On the other hand, you can't track how it travels from the online into the real world. Anyone who know what kind of language this is?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Building healthy communities

Richard McDermott write the cover story of inside knowledge on the topic of building healthy communities. A three years in-depth assessment was undertaken in a dozen companies to look at mature communities. Interestingly, old thinking about CoPs was that goals and deliverables woud inhibit people's openess and that communities needed to evolve on their own over time. However, the study found that many communities without organisational support fade away. Most of the healthy communities are more like 'official' organisational structures.

Key characteristics of healthy communities were consistent across the various industries studied. Following are some characteristics:
  • Most active communities are also highly valued by their organisations
  • Projects, goals and deliverables give a community something specific to organise around
  • Healthy communities have enthusiastic, active, energised leaders, spending between 10-25% of their time engaged in community activities
  • Leader activities include facilitating meetings, handling logistics, networking among members and networking among sponsors
  • Healthy communities have a core group of active members
  • They have a clear sense of making progress, even if goals are informally formulated, which energises the community
  • Healthy communities are far from the margins of a company even though management attention can easily inhibit community development.
  • Some communities are developing the organisation's knowledge assets

I think this is interesting, as I also encounter the belief that communities should be left alone in organisations. What I observe is that this marginalizes them, because there is no attention for learning from the community of practice. For inter-organisational communities (as I'm now mostly engaged with) it is even less likely that an organisation is closely involved. Though this may create the space for authentic development, is can also be interpreted as lack of interest in the domain of the community. Good to read the whole paper, it is not very long and gives a very pragmatic insight in communities within companies.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

List of 50 Knowledge Management Blogs

Following the referrals to my blog I found this list of 50 KM blogs. Hard for me, as I'm trying to keep my bloglist under 50, but I'm already at 90. If it is more than 50, I get discouraged to read them, and it starts to feel like an additional duty. And that's not what I want. So maybe I should change my bloglist to this 50? Anyhow, a useful reference for people who learn through reading blogs and want to learn about the field of Knowledge Management

Monday, October 06, 2008

Clash of generations

Via Steve Bridger I found this cartoon on the clash of generations on the Geek and Poke blog. On my Dutch blog I wrote the story about the train where a girl was looking for the women's toilet. I told her the toilet in front of her was for everyone. She answered that it was written that it was for 'men'. That was true, but 'men' in Dutch is a rather old-fashioned way of talking about men and women jointly!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Secrets and lies

If a conference is well blogged, and video-ed, you can probably learn as much from it as when attending.. At Picnic I heard people talk about the fact that men lie about 70% of the time on internet and women about 30% of the time... it made me curious how this was measured. And it may be reflective of face-to-face communication?

Anyhow, I just found a post by Ethan Zuckerman blogging Genevieve Bell's presentation on secrets and lies.
"Men and women lie differently. Men lie more, and we’re not as good at it. Men lie about their jobs and cars. Women lie about their weight, age and what they’ve purchased.
Why does this happen? We probably need to understand that lies aren’t always opposed to truth. They are often a form of self deception, a way of coping with the world. “Lies are not always opposed to truth - they are opposed to reality.” Children lie to test boundaries, to discover what is and isn’t an appropriate response in conversation. Is it okay to say that you’re seven when you’re actually three?"

She also point to the cultural determination of secrets and lies:
"Secrets are different than lies. Genevieve grew up in indigenous communities in Australia, and there secrets are a big part of life. Not everyone gets to know everything - there’s knowledge held only by women, only by men, only by the old or the initiated. She tells a story about indigenous women wondering at white women’s honesty with their husbands. “The white men asks, ‘What did you do today, dear?’ And the women answer! And the women I spent time with were howling with laughter over this.”

I recognise this as in Ghana there was definitely a different perception about what is allowed as secret or lies. Some lies are publicly known as lies to insiders, it is only the outsider that may be confused... Back to the internet: I have the feeling that the more you are online, the more you have to be honest, since everything gets connected. The more people you add on twitter, the more likely it is they know it when you are lying. But that sounds a bit contrary to her findings about lying?