Collaboration, conversation and knowledge sharing … in a pandemic

It was a delight to speak with Dave Wilson of Tiger Eye Consulting earlier this month on the topic of collaboration, conversation and knowledge sharing in these difficult times.

Our full interview is online (KM Conversations: Exploring KM and Collaboration), but I thought I’d also share a few thoughts here…

What problems are many law firm KMers experiencing at the moment?

Initially many law firm leaders and KMers struggled with getting all their fee earners working safely from home – getting decent, healthy, safe office spaces set up and connecting them appropriately and safely to the confidential and other information/knowledge necessary for their work.

Now that the vast majority of organisations have overcome this challenge, they are turning their attention to challenges of a completely different kind – how they can improve the trusting networks inside their organisation when people can’t interact in their usual ways.

We can’t rely on the informal interactions that happen naturally when people work together in the same office: the commuting buddies, the conversations in lifts/loos/kitchens/corridors. And we are realising how important those “in-between interactions” are for supporting and building the kind of trusting networks where knowledge can flow.

It is very natural, when most people in an organisation are working virtually/from home, for strong relationships to get stronger and weak ones to get weaker and even sometimes fall away and fail completely. If we are to connect people to the best experts and encourage the most complex knowledge to flow around our organisation, we have to be far more deliberate in our network-building and trust-building activities than we have needed to be previously.

What can people do to boost the strength of the network and relationships inside their organisation?

Some of the simple things that people can do to improve the reach of their network and the numbers of links between people are:

  • Entirely random connections – RCT (Random Coffee Connections 101) or “pass the parcel” networking (a variant with fewer and slower connections, which might suit some businesses better) or lunch fours (random lunches rather then coffee, with larger groups);
  • Team connections – tea & biscuits Thursday – a short team meeting with no work-based discussions, just catching up and getting to know each other, and, in difficult times, support for each other;
  • Cross silo connections for other purposes – make full use of other in-house groups (women lawyers, BAME networks, yoga Tuesday etc) and charitable fundraising groups;
  • and of course there’s nothing wrong with a traditional in-house newsletter/e-mail.

We also need to work on the quality of those links and boost trust between people. Some of the things that we can do to improve that are:

  • Communicate openly, making information symmetrical, and have a clear shared-purpose with explicit standards and expectations to minimise politics.
  • Share credit and recognition and model best behaviours for others. People take their lead from what is tolerated, rather than what is written or said about how behaviours ought to be.
  • Focus on similarities rather than differences, but remain open-minded about how very different people’s experiences can be of the same role in the same company at this time. People used to be able to separate their work and home issues, but they simply crowd together now. People’s homes may be very different to yours (affecting ability to work comfortably) and their families and support network may be very different to yours (working with toddlers, teenagers or a difficult partner in the house) or they may have worries that you hadn’t realised they had (grown children at a covid-hit University, elderly parents in a care home, dear friends who are cancer-survivors etc). The more diverse your organisation is, the more likely you are to understand these differences, but even in less-diverse organisations, you can take the time to consider how your actions and expectations might be affecting these types of situations (and *ask* people).
  • And when things get difficult, coach each other kindly but openly and utilise all resources inside the organisation, delegating and calling on support as needed. Don’t be shy about it, people like leaders who admit to not knowing and being human.

For more help on creating trust, read “Smart Collaboration” by Dr Heidi Gardner and “The Fearless Organisation” by Dr Amy Edmondson. Neither books are specifically on trusting KM networks, but both are great books on (respectively) successful collaborative teams and creating a culture where people can fearlessly speak up*.


There was more in our recorded conversation, but in the meantime, what are you doing to improve the trusting network inside your organisation, to improve knowledge sharing and collaboration? I’d love to hear in the comments.

The dreaded Zoom call …

* Both of these books were part of the 2020 Book Club. If you are interested in receiving a carefully chosen book each quarter, which have links to learning, knowledge and innovation, and discussing it with like-minded people, think about joining us. More info here.

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How do you spot a wise person?

(Also works for wise women!)

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Fearlessness

Where innovation can make the difference between success and failure, it is not enough to hire smart, motivated people.

Knowledgeable, skilled and well-meaning people cannot always contribute what they know at that critical moment on the job when it is needed.

Sometimes this is because they fail to recognise the need for their knowledge.

More often it’s because they’re reluctant to stand out, be wrong, or offend the boss.

For knowledge work to flourish, the workplace must be one where people feel able to share their knowledge.

This means sharing concerns, questions, mistakes, and half-formed ideas.


This is from the introduction to The Fearless Organisation by Dr Amy Edmondson (p.xiii-xiv) which we are currently reading in the Knowledge and Learning Book Club.

I’d be really interested to know what you are all doing to help your peers to:

  • recognise the value of their knowledge and when it is needed,
  • ameliorate a fairly natural reluctance to offend the boss (or be wrong or stand out), and
  • share concerns, questions, mistakes or half-formed ideas.

Thoughts in the comments (don’t be afraid of being wrong, offending someone or standing out and remember that we all want to benefit from your knowledge!) or if you can’t share, spend some time today thinking about what you can do differently to support people in their fearless knowledge sharing.

Everything will be fine (neon sign)

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Practice what you preach

“Practice what you preach”.

I’m sure we all know this saying.

It’s an important one for getting people onside and building trust. If you can’t practice something yourself, you shouldn’t be preaching it to others.

But what about preaching what you practice too?

You need to lead by demonstrating the importance of a work practice (such as curiosity about negative events or taking time for knowledge sharing) but you also need to ensure that people *hear* about this practice too.

This isn’t about excessive pride or crowing about your successes, it is about sharing best practices, making sure that everyone understands how to achieve the most that they can in their work and helping your organisation to deliver on its strategy.

If you want to improve how you make your work more visible, start here:


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Knowledge rests …

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Virtual collaborations – making them work

Virtual collaborations are necessary now, but how can you make them work?

I’ve been gathering some thoughts from practitioners and advisors about how to make virtual collaborations work well in these difficult times.

These are some of our conclusions, but what are your experiences? What tips do you have to share?

  1. Be upfront and honest about the challenges and try to understand other people’s difficulties
  2. Make expectations clear and leave no room for politics
  3. Limit video conferences to occasions when they really add value and make it clear which tool is for what task
  4. Ensure there is plenty of training available so everyone can make best use of the available tools
  5. Use champions to reinforce behaviours
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Fantastic value webinars

At the Knowledge and Information Management group at CILIP (of which I’m Chair) we’ve got some fantastic value webinars coming up which might be of interest to you, whether you are a CILIP person or not.

The theme for the Autumn/October series is “Career success in difficult times” and covers the following topics:

  • Resilience
  • Making a success of hybrid (home-office) teams
  • Perfectionism and procrastination

The whole series (all three hour-long events) is only £25+VAT for CILIP members and £50+VAT for non-members. Given the usual cost of resilience workshops alone, this is fantastic value.

They will be delivered via Zoom and the focus is on the challenges of information and knowledge managers, but they could be of interest to anyone.

For more information and bookings, click here – Autumn webinar series.

Ticket money is shared between speakers and the K&IM group.

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Change …

Most knowledge projects require change.

If you are interested in change management training, you can find details of all my up-coming workshops here.

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Layer cakes and legal content writing

A guest article from Sue Bramall of Berners Marketing.

A sponge cake is a cake, but it is not quite the same as a Victoria sandwich (with its cream filling), or a Sachertorte with its rich chocolate coating, or a carrot cake with its cream cheese frosting.  These extra ingredients transform a mundane sponge cake into something special, something altogether more enticing.

And, so it is with legal content writing.  A legal article is a legal article.  But one set of 800 words is not always as enticing as another.  Would you have been reading this article, if it was called “The problems with legal content writing”?  Probably not.

If you are the Knowledge Lawyer or PSL charged with producing a newsletter and have to source articles from a number of solicitors around your firm, then you may have to cope with varying quality of material which comes into your inbox.

Some legal articles will be witty, engaging, in plain English and right on the button.  Others will be incomprehensible, full of jargon, tortuous or tedious. Regardless of the quality, very few articles will be written in a way which is designed to maximise the chance of being found in an internet search.

Many solicitors will recognise that drafting an article for marketing purposes is not the same as drafting a contract or pleadings.  If they also acknowledge that they are not a search engine expert, then they are likely to be grateful for you to add some frosting in the way of journalistic flair.

But others will be less enthusiastic and may present an article as “signed off and ready to send out” as a firm signal not to “mess about” with it.  This is often a signal that they do not understand the role that content plays in a digital marketing strategy.

In either case there are a few things that you might consider including in your baking kit to make life easier:

Planning – check the recipe first

Occasionally you might receive an article and wonder why on earth the topic was chosen.  Before someone puts pen to paper, if possible, encourage them to prepare a short synopsis first to outline:

  • Why is this important now?
  • Who is it relevant to?
  • How might the firm benefit (ie win more work on this topic)?

Commissioning – check the ingredients

It can be useful to have two things in your store cupboard:

  • Prepare some model precedents for different types of articles, such as for a deal, a case report, top tips, new legislation.
  • Provide a crib sheet, highlighting the information which you need:  Who? What? When? Where? Why? How did we add value? How can we help?

Editing – check it is baked correctly

Consistency of style is really important, especially if your newsletter comprises articles from several contributors.

Editing – adding the filling & frosting

Even the best drafted legal articles will benefit from some editing for a number of reasons:

  • A fresh perspective will highlight jargon or acronyms which may mean different things outside of this legal practice area – for example, LPA means very different things to a private client lawyer and a planning lawyer.
  • The marketing team will be familiar with the structure of the website, and they will know which hyperlinks are required and the best wording for those links – the best words are absolutely not “click here”.
  • They will also know which keywords are being targeted and which social media hashtags should be used.
  • If an article has already been published on one website, then it will benefit from some tweaking before it is added to your firm’s website.  For example, a journalistic headline is great for print media, but not so effective for internet search purposes.

Update your recipe book

It is worth having a content policy which pulls all this together in order to ensure high quality and consistent content, and highlights that the content is part of your digital strategy so needs to confirm to a few digital protocols. 

Whether or not you enjoy baking, wouldn’t we prefer to offer our clients a Sachertorte rather than a plain sponge?

Sue Bramall of Berners Marketing is a colleague of mine from the Law Consultancy Network and has more than 25 years of experience marketing professional services.


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5 top tips to encourage brave knowledge sharing

“I’m not pro-failure, I’m pro-learning.” Astro Teller, Google X.

“Failure is not a bug of learning, it’s a feature.” Rachel Simmons, Smith College.

“The greatest enemy of learning is knowing.” saying/proverb

Sometimes it can be incredibly difficult to persuade people to discuss near misses and mistakes, even though we all appreciate how these provide fantastic learning opportunities.

How can you, whether you are a senior leader or a KMer, encourage the braver kinds of knowledge sharing?

  1. Frame discussions of errors as learning opportunities. Most modern work is complex, time-bound, and error-prone. Near misses and errors usually occur as a result of this, rather than due to simple incompetence. Ensuring employees understand this framing will help to encourage open discussion. A single near-miss can be reframed as a “great catch” and identifying the contributory factors behind a near miss or mistake offers the opportunity to improve the system of service delivery as a whole.
  2. Invite people to think in an aspirational way and speak up. Be curious about how they think improvements could be made. Ask them to investigate whether the delivery of all their work was as high quality as they would wish, and if not, what changes would help them.
  3. Respond to potential problems in an appreciative, respectful and helpful/problem-solving way. Remember that the best returns for organisations come from improving their systems, rather than writing off incidents as caused by a one-off screw-up. Early information about shortcomings nearly always mitigates the size and impact of future large-scale failures. Ensure your staff understand that avoiding these larger scale problems is your motivation.
  4. Remind people of the motivation and purpose behind their work. Working on improving complex systems in order to deliver a larger “good” can feel more valuable than trawling through depressing mistakes, whether they’re your own or other people’s. This can be easier in some businesses than others, but most firms and individuals can identify some higher purpose if given time.
  5. Don’t just accept “fail fast”. Failure has little intrinsic value unless there is also time and opportunity for reflection and learning from that failure. Encourage reflective learning both by individuals and by groups, through techniques such as the After Action Review.

If you are interested in psychological safety in knowledge sharing, I highly recommend “The Fearless Organization” by Amy Edmondson of Harvard Business School, which was the inspiration for this post.

Her book is our current K&L book club choice. If you are interested in getting a carefully curated selection of books to support your learning, read more about the book club here.

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