From the ‘outside’: tips for running virtual meetings

Yesterday Plan Zheroes, the charity I am proud to be the Knowledge Trustee of, held a board meeting. Unablle at the last minute to get to the venue I participated virtually. Here are a few learnings I’d like to share from the ‘Outside’ of the meeting.

Visibility

Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 12.01.30All people in the room should be visible to the virtual attendee (s). If impractical then make sure the key players are.

As you can see we started with an empty space next to the Chairman where the CEO should have sat.

Connectivity

Unless you are in two specially built VC facilities the chances are you will be reliant on Skype or an equivalent VOIP connection.  To improve reception make sure all other programmes (especially email) are switched off on the host and virtual machines.

Scheduling

Build in breaks and make no session last for more than an hour.

Summarising

SInce conversations can often be distorted and difficult to follow from a distance (especially if there is interference on the line) make sure whomever is chairing the meeting summarises what was agreed at the end of each section of the agenda.

And finally

Don’t assume every word spoken in the room can be heard outside of it and be patient. I’ve seen virtual meetings fail because of an irritation with the technology +/or connection – why is it we always blame the other end for the poor connection – don’t apportion blame, apportion ownership of the task to get it right next time and have a back up system in place such as Facetime, ooVoo or Viber.

If you want more on this subject follow this link to a piece I wrote with Martin White of Intranet Focus for KM Legal 2015: 10 tips for effective virtual teams.

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.

Fired up but not yet ready to go: Legal KIM response to 2015 challenges

A month back Martin White and I ran a breakfast breakout event for professionals in Legal Knowledge & Information Management. Those who follow mine and Martin’s musings might recall the event ‘The Future for Legal KIM: an outside in perspective’. Our aim was to present our thoughts to a group of Legal KIM’ers and seek their views.

These were the topics we foresaw as being important in 2015:

  • Lawyers come and go – capturing knowledge at speed
  • Collaboration and KM beyond the firewall
  • Getting the best from virtual teams
  • Bringing it all together – legal project management

ALegal KIMs it turned out we were not far off the mark as the feedback from the postcards we invited the delegates to write on indicated.

Once we consolidated all the replies on the day an interesting picture emerged.Scores on the doors (Click on the picture below to make it more visible)

In law firms of more than 250 partners the biggest issues were around virtual teams and project management. Yet all acknowledged they were not yet in a state of readiness to tackle them. Among the smaller players the biggest worry was around loss of knowledge.

other priorities

Not unsurprisingly the comments provided a valuable insight into their thinking.  Smaller firms (at the start of their KIM journey) were looking for basic KM:

  • Basic entry level km – completely new to it / evolving information research service & integrating with K activities
  • Provision of rapid and easy access to previously captured knowledge / Technology to simplify the process of intergration

Larger firms wanted something different (note the reptition of collaboration):

  • Collaboration inside the firewall / Expertise locating
  • Combining & improving KM systems / Organising our know how in a better way across the whole organisation
  • Support dept personalities working together (Marketing collaborating with IS, KM)  / Improve collaboration generally
  • Content clutter and records management / Risk & Security / Knowledge & UT goals & Strategy

So much to ponder on – watch this space for answers!

and finally

Grateful thanks to the four people who made contributions to Plan Zheroes (the event’s nominated charity).  For those who forgot and anyone else who feels moved to contribute, they can do so here.

PZ Virtual PresenceThis Thursday the Plan Zheores team are at London’s GLA for the launch of their new virtual presence which has the potential to make PZ the ‘Uber of surplus food’. Here’s a snapshot of what it will look like and why the team is so excited.

 

Future of Legal KIM: ‘Death of Difference’ and the need for effective legal project management

A really timely thought piece ‘Becoming the law firm clients really want’ landed on my desk this week. The future of LawBy Peppermint Technology Research, it characterised the future of law firms as being ‘the death of difference’ noting that legal will become much like other sectors. This scenario has profound implications for lawyers, professional support lawyers and legal knowledge & information management (KIM) professionals.

On December 9th Martin White and I will be hosting a breakfast breakout event at the RSA The future for Legal KIM: An Outside-In perspective.  In it we will look at some of the issues facing KIM professionals. Martin and I have worked in many industries across many countries; we’ve seen and been involved in seismic shifts in the KIM roles in engineering, energy, the 3rd sector, publishing, software and finance. Our thinking in putting this event together was to share some of our experiences in a relaxed setting with like minded legal KM’ers.

So over the past few weeks in the run up to the event we have been looking at the four big issues research had told us were near the top of the legal professions ‘must do’ list.

  • Lawyers come and go – capturing knowledge at speed
  • Getting the best from virtual teams
  • Collaboration and KM beyond the firewall
  • Bringing it all together – legal project management

I began with Going but not forgotten: knowledge capture in a hurry, Martin then wrote  The opportunities for digital workplace adoption by law firms and  Certifying virtual teams – a key skill in digital workplace implementation.

bringing it all together – legal project management

Today I am going to focus (from a KIM perspective) on the challenges of setting up a project management infrastructure that allows an organisation to learn from previous experiences and feed back learnings from the project back into the business.

There are many project management disciplines being used in industry. The Stage-Gate new product development (NPD) methodology is one example in which the veracity of new products are assessed and resources allocated according to a set of criteria for each stage of the process. Knowledge capture is built into the process.

Irrespective of the system you adopt below are a few of the questions you will need to be asking (I’ve omitted the obvious budget ones):

set up (learning before)

  • What do we know about this subject and what has been done before?
  • Who is an expert (internal and external) and can we get their input before starting the project?
  • Who should we invite to the Kick Off meeting and how do we want to structure that?
  • What structures are we going to use for management, monitoring and decision making?
  • Who is going to be on the Project Steering Group and how do we manage those stakeholders and others? How often should they meet and in what format?
  • How are we going to capture the outcomes of meetings, store the material we generate and make people aware of what’s happening?
  • How do we collaborate across teams and boundaries to ensure the best possible decisions are made based on the best?

conduct (learning during)

  • Who do we go to for answers to tricky questions that arise and how do we do that?
  • How often are we feeding learnings back into our project?
  • Who is providing updates and in what format?
  • Where are we storing progress reports?

conclusions (learning after)

  • What format will the debrief take and who will be invited?
  • When and where will you hold it?
  • Who will be tasked to action the outcomes?

I remember a conversation once with Professor Victor Newman on his Baton Passing Technique which arose in part to ensure project knowledge is passed on.  He said:

The big problem in managing learning to have an impact is to know what knowledge is useful, to whom, the form it should take, where and when it is best applied and when best to share it

Baton PassingAlongside is an extract from the slides Victor and the British Council made available.  It works, I’ve tried it!

I have used in addition: After Action Reviews, Pause & Reflects, Retrospects to name but three.

 

 

Earlier this year APQC published an interview with me in which I described the concept of DEBRIEF as a technique for capturing learnings at the end of various stages of projects. I will talk more about that on the 9th.  It’s not too late to sign up here!

and finally

Too often the KIM team are excluded from the project management processes in favour of an accredited (Prince 2 trained) Project Manager. In my view that’s a grave mistake, there are KM techniques for each step of the process and the good KIM’er will be well versed in facilitating such interventions.

If you fail to learn from what you’ve done then you will not improve as a business and will be uncompetitive with those who do.