Sharing Hidden Know-How: Facilitator as Catalyst for Innovation

With “Sharing Hidden Know-How” (Jossey-Bass/Wiley, April 2011), Katrina Pugh introduces a radical new way to unlock the knowledge captive in organizations. She introduces the “Knowledge Jam,” a facilitated conversation between “Originators” (experienced individuals, teams, networks) and “Brokers” (representatives of the learners, such as instructional designers).

Pugh explains how a facilitated conversation makes know-how come out into the open and translate into practice more efficiently than does more transactional or solitary forms of knowledge transfer.

In “Sharing Hidden Know-How,” Pugh introduces the arc of the Knowledge Jam, including sponsoring and planning steps, the disciplines of facilitation, conversation, and translation, and guidelines for setting up a Knowledge Jam program.  The excerpt below is from the “Facilitation” chapter. It takes a step-by-step walk through the tasks of planning, convening, and engaging participants through the Knowledge Jam cycle, and considers facilitator as leader.

By Katrina Pugh, President AlignConsulting

When I took facilitation training, I learned, to my surprise, that while facilitation feels to the novice like the “facilitator show,” when done right, it’s the “participant show.” Facilitators filter and channel the insights, passions, and intent of participants. They direct, but don’t wear, the limelight.
So it is with Knowledge Jam. While the Facilitator is the catalyst for knowledge exchange, it is the participants who are on stage. The Facilitator builds the conditions for getting out Originators’ know-how. They help Brokers to drill down on ideas so they can translate the knowledge to new contexts. And they shepherd the whole Knowledge Jam process.

It’s helpful to represent this process as a series of facilitated interactions. Knowledge topics are defined, tacit knowledge comes to the surface, epiphanies occur, and knowledge is translated into practical future uses. In the following section, I will narrate this trek, and describe what the Facilitator does to convene productive conversions among Originators and Brokers. Done skillfully, such convening results in know-how accumulating, becoming ever more useful, and getting put to work.

Facilitated Interactions in a Knowledge Jam Process

Select Step: During the Select step, the facilitator works with the Sponsor to develop a portfolio of subjects. For example, “The tsunami rescue,” “The retiring inventor’s logic,” “The 80-year-old anthropologist’s world view,” “The (rare) cross-organizational success.” Selection is based on a Jam’s potential feasibility (e.g., availability of Brokers and Originators) and impact on the organization (e.g., potential for the knowledge to lead to new product revenue, cost improvement, or executive succession).

Plan Step: Facilitators plan by aligning concepts, attitudes, and time commitments. Even before topic selection, facilitators’ preparatory interviews or introductions give key Brokers and Originators a sense of how they will contribute and benefit. A Planning Event among representatives of both groups fleshes out the “topics” (agenda) around which the Jam unfolds. In addition, in partnership with the Brokers, the Facilitator may set up collaboration sites, wikis, or discussion boards to house captured knowledge and brokering in progress.

Discover/Capture Step: Facilitators chair the 90-minute Discover/Capture event(s), type and project (or Webex) conversation notes, and manage the tone in the room (or virtual room). Facilitators apply hard skills, such as information gathering and mapping, and softer skills, such as hearing what is not being said, encouraging the heart, and managing dysfunctions. (In the Conversation chapter, we learn that these lead to a Posture of openness, Pursuit of diversity, and Practices of dialogue.)

Facilitators encourage participants to speak concretely, avoid blame, withhold judgment, and ground their statements in shared meaning. In effect, they create a climate of safety. Safety enables them to dig into the whys behind the whys. For example, “Why I turned down that offer” or “Why using those O-rings at low temperatures presents risks.” Participants correct and add to the shared notes as they are captured in front of the room (desktop), and then work with the Facilitator to summarize.

Broker Step: Brokers now take center stage. During the Broker step, Facilitators continue as process managers and networkers. They assist Brokers with translation—where Brokers publish, extend, integrate, and blog about the knowledge that came out of the Discover/Capture event. Knowledge could end up in a project plan, an onboarding program, a process redesign, and even an M&A integration guide. Frequently, Facilitators themselves, transfer elicited knowledge to target knowledge-seekers.

Reuse Step: Facilitators’ ultimate goal is reuse—no matter how the knowledge gets to the learners. Facilitators start by walking the talk. For example, during the Jam cycle, they reference earlier Jams or echo insights or terms Originators shared. Facilitators work with the Brokers to record and report back to the Sponsor actual reuse activity. Some reporting can be done online (e.g., search hits and download counts), but the most effective is self-reported, surveys, or interviews. Facilitators help participants respond to news about the impact and “stickiness” of the knowledge.

In sum, Knowledge Jam Facilitators are on-point for all five Knowledge Jam steps, intentionally channeling the organization’s energy and insight into new creations and innovations. At the same time, their centrality diminishes progressively from Select through Reuse, as Originators’ and then Brokers’ roles grow.

Building facilitation capacity is valuable even beyond Knowledge Jam, and may fit nicely with the organization’s leadership training. Facilitation skills like these are much in demand for today’s emerging leaders. As the Knowledge Jam conversation can be unpredictable, Facilitators must inspire a certain faith in the unknown, and the confidence in a collaborative approach to dealing with it.

The Knowledge Jam can be a leadership development opportunity. The Knowledge Jam experience hones important business skills: prioritization, boundary spanning, process facilitation, productive conversation, and results measurement. It’s not surprising that great Knowledge Jam facilitators don’t stay in place.

About the Author:

Katrina Pugh, author of “Sharing Hidden Know-How”(Jossey-Bass/Wiley, 2011),  is president of AlignConsulting, a firm that helps organizations plan business and technology change by channeling insight into action. She formerly was VP of Knowledge Management for Fidelity and senior technical program manager for Intel Solution Services, and held leadership roles at JPMorganChase and PwC Consulting/IBM.

Reprinted from  Training Magazine Network

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