Challenges and Opportunities facing Legal KM: interview for KM Legal Europe

A few weeks back I wrote a  post Future of the Internet and Legal KIM in an artificial world ahead of an interview I was giving to the organisors of January’s KM Legal Europe Amsterdam.  Here’s that interview which includes a snapshot of the sessions I will be facilitating.

how to draw on the experience of others: OpenSpace Peer Assist

Last week I attended the 12th annual Knowledge Management UK event in London.

The format has changed little over the years: predominantly show and tell for IMG_3607an audience that is a mix of new in post and established mid level practitioners all looking for something to take back into their business.

This year I noted an increase in the average age of the delegates and more from Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) sector perhaps reflecting how KM has become an accepted discipline across many organisations. I am particularly looking forward to seeing the feedback comments this year.

I only attended Day One, my colleague Martin White was presenting on Knowledge Collaboration in Virtual Teams on Day Two (I know he will have a few comments to add). Suffice here to give a shout for a couple of the presentations which struck a chord:

Culture Change in bentley motors to facilitate information sharing

Bentley CultureI particularly liked this Bentley Motors presentation as it mirrored my experience helping to intergrate a group of Anglo / Dutch / German / US businesses a decade ago. Now part of VAG group it has embarked on a medium term programme to align itself with their aspirations and working practices without a loss of the perception of quality.

The Hofstede findings when looking at German and UK characteristics pick up nicely where the potential Hofstede country comparisonareas of conflict were likely to be.

The premise behind the programme: information sharing requires the right cultural environment not a set of slloed business units.

building a minimum viable product: Oxfam

This session provided a great illustration of the importance of working to an agreed vision for a KM programme.

OxfamThe slide I’ve picked here makes explicit the concept of get/give – if you benefit from something you have a responsibility to contribute something back in return.

Its a great example of what being a knowledge driven business is truly about.

The second slide provides an image of what collaboration will look like in Oxfam Futurethe future at Oxfam. What’s really interesting is the explicit acknowledgement of the need for information underpinnings (including Search) to provide KM benefits.

There were a couple of others and if anyone wants a truncated account follow this hashtag #KMUK2015.

OpenSpace Peer Assist

My brief was to run an interactive closing session (lasting 1 hour) that enabled the delegates to answer:

  • What problems are you facing?
  • In what areas would you like to share your experience with others?
  • What are others doing that you would like to find out more about?

Typical problemsAs a backdrop I shared this list to stimulate discussion.

It wasn’t needed as many of the delegates were keen to have their challenge discussed and half a dozen volunteers came forward offering to act as the Assistee (host the discussion around their challenge).

 

Having decided which challenge each delegate wanted to discuss, these guidelines were put up:Peer Assist Process

Below is a snapshot of the discussions taken from summaries which Laura Brooke of Ark Group  captured on her smart phone.

The idea of getting the Assistee to summarise is to consolidate the discussions and reflect back in plenary. I’ve shared them in case some of these might help you to overcome a challenge.

Knowledge Capture In a Legal environment

  • On getting people to talk about experiences: Documents don’t work, stories of events do!
  • On conducting After Action Reviews and getting people to acknowledge when things go wrong: often spoken about in meetings but minutes are not always taken and when they are they are not interactive so need a better way to record.
  • Asking someone to tell you what they know won’t work, instead ask them: What questions do you get asked all the time?  If you don’t know what people know at least you should know who to go and ask?
  • Challenge of self perceptions: Some people think they know a lot others don’t think they know anything important which is where a 3rd party might come in to tease out the valuable stuff.
  • Where to store: If you put everything into a site it would be too much. SharePoint to apply an automatic taxonomy.

how to measure real value on km and learning from experience

  • Saving time: at the beginning of the journey take an estimate of time to be saved and OpenSource Peer Assistmeasure throughout.  Help to develop people faster.  If KM is making a contribution on a project that should be recorded.
  • Improving the onboarding process so that new hires do not lose interest and leave.
  • Idea box (self funding): adopted by an expert, any returns should be applied back to KM.
  • Managing records: looking at information that has gone past sell by date and not legally required.
  • Why are we asked about KM value: should be a given that its needed.

system adoption

  • Practical examples of what’s in it for me tailored for each office.
  • Huge challenge getting people to fill in profiles on a people finder: need to show good examples with leaders to the fore.
  • Collaborative groups: form a community among the leaders of each.
  • Contributions to the system: change appraisal process to recognise the contributions.
  • Steering Group: make better use of it as system advocate.
  • Metrics: really good internal measures should be used for advertising.
  • When all else fails shut down the other systems!

How to get leaders to take km more seriously

  • While senior people understand the value they don’t back it financially.
  • Siloed approach to communications: – a set of inconsistent messages even from KM champions.
  • While KM is part of a strategy its often seen as a tick box exercise.
  • Accountability: make objectives more transparent.
  • Business Case: more analysis on where we are starting from and show tangible stuff.
  • Reporting lines: KM should be an agenda item on senior level meetings just like risk!

Engaging with it

  • Make them heroes part of the vision for future which they jointly own and where their role is clear.
  • Recognise their workload and surface their inability to deal with multiple objectives with current resources.
  • Reaffirm the importance of the KM development strategy and its priority.
  • Look at success in other organisations: take IT ‘guys’ along to other organisations who have made it work.

what the participants said

Here’s a few of the comments from the Assistees and Assistors (names removed to preserve anonymity):

“Peer assist is a very powerful tool to deliver”
“I very much enjoyed being able to discuss a particular challenges with a group of peers.

Interesting to hear others’ view points and ideas and the types of challenges they face”
“Very good speaker – Style of session was very useful and interesting, more like this please!”
“Engaging, fun, informative – learned a lot from the session”
“Very good peer assist. I got a few ideas generated by the group for my situation”

and finally

Perhaps what surprised me the most was the show of hands I got to the question:

A Peer assist is a process that enables the gathering of knowledge drawn from the experiences of colleagues before embarking on a project or piece of work, or when facing a specific problem or challenge within a piece of work – How many of you have used Peer Assists in your business?

Less than 10% put up their hands.  Even with a modesty factor it still means less that 25% of Knowledge Management professionals at the event had used one of the most basic and valuable tools to draw on the experiences of others.  I’m glad I gave people the chance to try it out and learn from each other in so doing to solve real problems they are facing.

 

a reluctance to tweet: 10 success factors for virtual teams

It was like throwing a dart into a vacuum

Is how I responded on Twitter to Mark Gould an offsite observer of #KMLegal2015 who bemoaned the lack of online activity by the 100 or so Knowledge & Information Management (KIM) professionals who were attending this year’s Ark Group gathering of the UK KM legal community.

Its baffling: vendors, consultants and indeed KIM practitioners promote the value of social collaboration tools such as Yammer and Jive. Indeed KIM professionals are often at the forefront of efforts to get adoption in their organisation in order to improve collaboration and knowledge sharing. Yet they seem reluctant to ‘walk the talk’ in a public forum.

Perhaps Joanna Goodman got it right when she said:

sessions were quite interactive, so hard to be fully engaged and tweeting

It made me think more about why I tweet at a conference, this is what I posted during a virtual conversation with Luis Suarez a prodigious tweeter (58k to nearly 12k followers):

Why tweet a conference? Expand reach, collaborate, collect and share thoughts ‘on the fly’. Make notes for future blogs.

What really struck me though was the contrast with the Janders Dean Legal Knowledge & Innovation Conference, London #JDKMConf held the week before. That audience made sufficient ‘noise’ that even those who didn’t attend were able to draw conclusions. Here’s what Stephen Sander (The Vue Post) wrote in a witty piece about being a non attendee:

I curated below what I consider to be the best tweets from the Conference. These tweets offer an interesting insight into current themes and issues in legal knowledge, innovation and technology.

Perhaps this is the difference? The Janders Dean event was invitation only – a thought leaders event – whereas KM Legal is an open conference, if you pay up you can go!

Whatever the merits of both, facilitation should be at the core of the KIM professionals competency set and ‘putting stuff out there’ ia good part of that. Too many broadcast rather than engage. Knowledge Management in a comfort zone is not going to change the way a firm works and responds to the significant challenges facing the legal profession which brings me onto why I was there:

Managing Virtual Teams

In December, Martin White and I ran a breakfast breakout event at the RSA entitled The Future for Legal KIM: an outside in perspective’. One of the challenges firms identified as significant but for which they were ill prepared was the management of virtual teams. As a couple of long in the tooth practitioners who have worked across many continents we’d seen a wide range of organisations fail to match their virtual team technology investment with training in how to go about facilitating virtual encounters.

Virtual Teams Presentation StructureOur brief for KM Legal 2015 was therefore entertain the audience, bring the issues to life. Our approach: tell stories and show images.

We divided the presentation into these areas each drawing on events from our knowledge base.

In tackling the culture piece I noted the following:

Let me say right up front: you can’t manage culture just the same as you can’t manage knowledge. In both cases you can create environments in which people are willing to collaborate, share and work towards a shared set of goals.

Many organisations have a set of values and a social contract that underpins the relationship between the firm and employees.

Ultimately a firm is a collection of individuals each with their own reasons for being there. In a virtual team people’s fears, prejudices and behaviours are magnified.

In thinking and rehearsing for the session Martin and I had worked virtually. We learned a lot about clarity of messages and intent behind words and phrase (and we are both English). We (re) discovered the need for a collaboration space with a framework that suited us both.

We discovered a lot more besides, here’s what we shared with the delegates:

Ten virtual team success factors

  1. Virtual teams are the way work gets done: Recognise that virtual teams are going to be increasingly important to any organisation, and ensure that current and potential participants have access to training and mentoring on virtual team management and virtual team meetings.
  2. Set very clear and achievable objectives: Virtual teams should have very clear objectives so that it is possible to set the investment in the team against the outcome and also that team members bring appropriate skills, expertise and authority to take action.
  3. Chose virtual team leaders carefully: Leadership skills that work for physical teams may not be as valuable in a virtual team environment. Other skills are needed and have to be acquired through practice, not just through reading or teaching.
  4. Develop protocols for virtual meetings; Without good team meetings a virtual team is very unlikely to achieve its objectives and so particular care should be taken in developing guidelines for virtual meetings and for facilitating feedback.
  5. Provide team member profiles: Develop good profiles of each team member, taking into account local availability of technology and offices which can be used to take part in virtual meetings (especially in the case of open-plan offices) and language expertise.
  6. Build virtual relationships before putting them to the test: Each team should have an opportunity to meet with other members of the team through an initial virtual meeting where members can introduce themselves and gain experience with the technology being used before the first formal meeting of the team.
  7. Team dynamics can be difficult to manage: Team dynamics of virtual teams can be quite fragile, often depending on a very high level of trust in people they may not have met before. Introducing a new team member into an existing team may mean starting the process of building trust all over again.
  8. Gain consensus on what needs to happen between meetings?: Team members may have different reporting lines, which may impede the overall achievement of objectives. The measure of a virtual team is what it accomplishes between meetings, not how enjoyable the meetings are
  9. “English is our corporate language”: Issues of language and culture need careful consideration but should never be an excuse not to bring specific individuals into a team. There may be a mix of abilities in reading, speaking, understanding and writing in English
  10. Evaluate team and individual performance: The performance of the team and of each member should be carefully evaluated and training and support given where needed.

“four legs bad two legs better”: when people leave they take their knowledge with them…

One of the big topics that comes up time and again in conversations with businesses is how to handle the loss of knowledge when people leave or get relocated. I took these notes during an interview a couple of months back with a former CEO about how he felt having exited the business after 8 years at the helm:

Too often an outgoing official feels let down by the process: using an analogy from Animal Farm, he described the environment in the aftermath of his departure as being ‘four legs bad two legs better’. The new team had little interest in understanding how decisions had been reached and maintaining the networks he considered it vital to maintain.

I remember reading Animal Farm a couple of times: the pigs take control and the mantra changes from ‘four legs good, two legs bad’ to ‘four legs good, two legs better’ as they adopt the practices of the old regime they’d previously rubbished.  It was a vivid illustration of how damaging a process leaving a business can be.

It’s not just about suddenly making provision to capture knowledge for people about to leave. Effective knowledge retention starts when a new member of staff joins: they bring fresh ideas and in many cases experiences that can be valuable additions to an organization’s corporate memory. It continues throughout their tenure (when they are involved in projects, have to make decisions, handle difficult situations, engage with stakeholders, develop policy, etc) and beyond – when they leave to become part of the alumni network.

As part of my ongoing association with Sparknow we are going to be running a knowledge retention masterclass in Singapore. To find out more about that and look at the latest blog on this subject posted today on Sparknow’s site please go to ‘knowledge retention in Asia’

It promises to be an exciting few months.

KMUK 12: whose doing what in KM I stories from afar

I’ve been to some events that focused purely on activity from within their host region. For me that’s a mistake and as recent trips to Africa and South America have confirmed there is a much to be learned from the way different people across the globe approach knowledge management.

Which is why I was delighted when Ark asked me to lead the wrap up session on Day One of KMUK entitled ‘Stories from around the world: Knowledge management trends and experiences’.

I have a couple of examples to share from Africa including the Sudapet Book Project and a Rwandan World Cafe and I know Andy Boyd, Brigitte Ireland, Adrienne Monteath-van Dok and Arthur Shelley will likewise be drawing on global experiences for what promises to be an interesting session.

Don’t worry if you can’t be there, Ark have very kindly agreed to take notes and I will publish some of the findings once the event has taken place. For those of you keen to expand your global knowledge two sources I’d recommend:

  • KM4Dev (the community of km people in the development arena) and the KM4Dev Dgroup discussion and
  • Swiss Agency for Development & Corporation’s learning and networking blog which regularly features stories from across the community of nations they support.