Tag Archives: knowledge sharing

Telling stories at work


By Elisabeth Goodman, 4th October 2017

Why tell stories at work?

I first heard about the power of using stories at work, in the context of sharing knowledge and building learning and understanding, in the 1990s.

Stories are a powerful way to share knowledge and build learning and understanding.

David Snowden, who was then a Director at the IBM Institute for Knowledge Management, was a chief exponent of the use of narrative to convey complex messages.  (Snowden’s work has since evolved, and there is an informative and somewhat entertaining account of David Snowden on David Gurteen’s website.  Gurteen is himself somewhat of a guru of Knowledge Management.)

what makes stories so powerful?

Paul McGee tells us why stories are so powerful in his article “The power of telling stories” for the April 2017 issue of the Training Journal.  He reminds us that we have been using stories since the cave paintings 20,000 years ago, and we continue to engage with stories through books, TV programmes, film and in our day-to-day conversations.

And the reason, he tells us, why good stories are so engaging, is that they activate every part of the brain.  Not only the language processing parts, but every other part of the brain.  The more sensory and action words we include: how things look, smell, feel, and the actions involved – the more we engage the parts of the brain that would be activated if the listener was actually experiencing the event themselves.  They don’t actually need to be experiencing it for this to happen..

The result of telling a good story in this way is that it engages the emotions as well as the intellect.  Emotions make a story more memorable, more inspiring, and so are more likely to lead to commitment and to action.

When and How to tell a good story?

1.  Choose your opportunity and your topic

Stories can be shared about just about anything – but they do need to have a point to be effective!

Here are some situations I can think of – and that I have experimented with in my work with RiverRhee:

In a one-to-one mentoring or coaching situation to give a verbal example of how to do something, or not to do something based on your own experience of doing so.

In a training course or workshop, to convey some key principles, a framework or a methodology.

During a presentation, to get people’s attention and/or to illustrate some key points that you want to get across

2.  Think of a main character or characters, an event, and an outcome

As McGee says, in the Training Journal article, artistic licence is fine.  The story does not have to be true, although you might find it easier to create it, and to be convincing, if it has some basis on reality.

Christopher Booker, in “The Seven Basic Plots” (Bloomsbury, 2014), argues that these different plots (including comedy, tragedy, quests, rags to riches, encounters with monsters, voyages, rebirths) actually resolve themselves into some basic common denominators.

So, as he says, a typical story unfolds as follows: “once upon a time there was such and such a person, living in such and such a place… then, one day, something happened”.  That happening leads the main character (hero or heroine) into some experience that changes their lives.  There is conflict and uncertainty.  Ultimately there is some form of resolution.

One of my most powerful stories of this type illustrates how people can react to changes that they initially perceive as positive.  The words used in the change curve below mirror, to some extent, those for Booker’s story plot above.

Positive change curve – from “The Effective Team’s Change Management Workbook”, RIverRhee Publishing, 2013

Although I can’t share the details of the change here, it was a family event that we had instigated, thinking that it was the right thing to do (uninformed certainty).  No sooner had we initiated it, than I literally felt like I had gone cold with shock (informed doubt!).  We persevered for a while, but eventually realised that the solution was not going to be as easy as we had thought, and that we had to start exploring other options (realistic concern).  Eventually we did find a way forward and are in a much better place (emotionally and intellectually!) now (informed certainty).

3.  Add some sensory detail – and try some metaphors

I learnt, in my NLP Practitioner training, about the wide range of words we can use when we talk to bring our own experiences alive, and to communicate more effectively with others.  We use some of these words automatically when we speak, and often neglect the wide array available to us.

So if we deliberately think about appealing to all of our senses, the results would be something like this:

  1. For visual language use: see, look, picture, blue, yellow, light, bright, dark, transparent etc.
  2. For auditory language use: hear, sound, loud, quiet, clank, click, tinkle, shrill etc.
  3. For kinesthetic language use: touch, feel, damp, dry, wet, sharp, hot, cold etc.
  4. For auditory digital (inner dialogue, or self-talk – this is more language based) use: understand, think, explain, process etc.

In fact, in our NLP course, we also used the power of metaphors as an aid to communication: telling a story that does not even have to directly mention the principle or method that you are trying to get across.  People draw their own inferences from the story – and the fact that they have to ‘work it out’ can make the final message even more powerful.

It can take a little courage to trust your audience to make the right inferences, and I generally err on the side of telling them – as with the ‘urban myth’ I use for explaining the importance of finding root causes to address sources of waste in Lean and Six Sigma and process improvement!

when and how will you try out stories at work?

As McGee suggests in his article, and as my own experiences show, it takes some courage to have a go with story-telling, to share perhaps personal stories, and to embellish the stories with sensory detail.

Choose a situation to begin: a one-to-one conversation, a course or workshop, a presentation.

Develop a story that you are comfortable with.

Write a list of prompts to remind you of the key points.

Test it out on a friendly audience.    Rehearse.

Remember the very long tried and tested history we have of the effectiveness of stories.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.) Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  

RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals).

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. 

She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

 

 

 

 

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Addressing the challenges of “multi-teaming” in project management


By Elisabeth Goodman, 9th September 2017

The nature of “multi-teaming” in project management

Many of the organisations that I work with manage projects as the essence of their way of working.  The complexity of this approach is compounded in two ways:

  1. Operating a matrix model of management – where individuals have a line manager who is not necessarily their project manager
  2. Assigning team members and leaders to multiple teams – so that they dip in and out of projects according to when their time and expertise is most needed.

Benefits

There are tremendous benefits to this way of working – such as:

  • ensuring that team members’ expertise is used to the full across the organisation
  • sharing knowledge and good practices between teams
  • fostering learning and development
  • providing opportunities for continuous improvement
  • minimising downtime and associated costs.

Risks and costs

There are also risks and costs – such as:

  • increased employee stress
  • reduced quality of team interactions (or group identity / cohesion)
  • knock-on effects from issues in one project impacting on resource availability for others.

Facts and data

The overcommitted organization_HBR Sept Oct 2017

Mark Mortensen and Heidi K. Gardner.  The overcommitted organization.  HBR Sept-Oct 2017, pp. 58-65

Mark Mortensen and Heidi Gardner’s article “The overcommitted organization” in the September – October issue of Harvard Business Review (pages 58-65) has some facts and data about the extent of “multi-teaming” in organisations.

 

They have studied hundreds of teams in a range of sectors (including professional services, oil and gas, high tech, consumer goods) over a period of 15 years.

Apparently at least 81% of more than 500 managers in global companies reported “multi-teaming” as a way of life, with people involved in as many as 6 to 15 projects in a week.

My own empirical observation in working with teams in the Life Sciences, and in Library and Information Management, is that “multi-teaming” is also a way of life, although the number of projects that people are juggling is generally not quite as high!

Tips for addressing the challenges of “multi-teaming”

Mortensen and Gardner provide some very useful tips on how to address the associated challenges of “multi-tasking”, which also reinforce the points we share in RiverRhee’s training on team and project management.

Building the team

We know that the most effective teams are those that not only have a clear idea of their purpose and individual members’ roles, but have spent time developing the relationships with the team.

Our experience that the most effective way to set the team on the right path is to have a kick-off meeting or launch, and ideally face-to-face.  This enables people to start to get to know each other, and from there, as emphasize Mortensen and Gardner, comes trust and accountability.

In fact, they maintain that having a team launch can improve performance by up to 30%.

An emphasis on building the team also helps people to feel that they “belong” to each team that they are working on – something that we know can be a very strong motivator for many people.   For team leaders, understanding what motivates each person will help them to boost and maintain motivation.

Making the most of everyone’s skills

Mortensen and Gardner also say that it is worth doing a team launch even with team members who are already familiar with each other as every new project is likely to bring new requirements and skills into play.

They advocate mapping everyone’s skills – both technical and soft, along with wider areas of knowledge.  This ensures that everyone is aware of who can bring what skills to bear, that they consult each other accordingly, and also hold each other accountable for quality.

This also builds on what we know from using personality tools such as MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and Belbin Team Roles to understand and optimise the interactions between team members.

Managing time and priorities

This is probably the most important issue for many team members and leaders.  We often hear of people’s frustration as the time they thought they had for one project gets squeezed by demands from another.

Screen Shot 2017-09-09 at 10.33.50

In a RiverRhee newsletter on Project Management, we shared our advice for using explicit project charters for agreeing the time that each person would spend on each project.  This is very much a starting point but it opens up the conversation, and many organisations then use portfolio review meetings to further address changes in priorities and requirements on people’s time.

Mortensen and Gardner have some other great suggestions:

  • schedule mandatory full team meetings at key milestones – making these dates clear with other teams
  • use sub-team meetings at other times to reduce the number of commitments on the rest of the team members – and supplement these with brief check-ins with other individuals
  • use electronic tools to share updates on project status, and consider using short videos as alternative to long memos
  • visual tools such as the video on Skype or Facetime for individual one-to-one check-ins can help to pick up body language cues for instance around stress, motivation, understanding etc.

Fostering learning

We put a big emphasis on the importance and benefits of sharing learning and how to do it for creating excellence in project management, so it was good to see the HBR authors highlight this too.

As they say, learning is something that can suffer when people are pushed for time.  It is also an important motivator for many people.

We stress the importance of scheduling a close-out meeting as part of the project plan to ensure that learnings are reflected upon and actions agreed for sharing and addressing them.

Mortensen and Gardner also suggest that team leaders:

  • give and encourage feedback
  • designate co-leaders for different aspects of the project to enhance the amount of contact between team members
  • pair people up (perhaps with different levels of expertise) so that they can learn from each other
  • pose “what if” questions and re-direct questions to team members to also foster cross-tutoring

What can be done to reduce risk and boost innovation at an organisational level

The HBR authors have some additional, perhaps less commonly identified, organisational strategies for addressing the challenges of “multi-teaming”, and so decrease risk, and increase innovation.

These strategies focus on ensuring a good understanding of and actively managing the spread of people across teams.

Many organisations use some form of FTE or resource management system to understand who is working on what project, and how much time they are devoting to each.  They mainly use this for accounting purposes – for example so that costs to clients can be more accurately calculated.

Mortensen and Gardner suggest that this mapping of resources should also be used to understand and manage the associated risks and opportunities from “multi-teaming”.

Anticipating shock-waves between projects

So for instance if the overlap of members between teams is large, there is a greater risk of knock-on shocks from one project to another.  With an accurate mapping of team membership, project or senior managers could anticipate these risks and develop mitigation plans.

Optimising knowledge sharing and learning

If the overlap between members of projects is small, and the organisation values knowledge sharing between projects, then the expectation (or culture) and approaches for the transfer of learnings and good practices could be made more explicit.

Enhancing team building

The authors also suggest that, if the nature of the tasks or the culture between different project teams is very different, it will be harder for members to transition from one to the other.  Understanding the overall map of resources to teams would therefore alert project, line and senior managers in these situations to put a greater emphasis on the on-boarding and team building activities.

Using dedicated resources

Organisations who have designated portfolio managers, or project management offices (PMOs) could take on many of the recommendations listed above.  However, many of the smaller Life Science organisations, and Library and Information Management services that we deal with do not have this luxury.

The HBR authors’ recommendations could be an alternative to these.  So for example there could be:

  • designated “fire-fighters” to watch-out for any of the risks identified above
  • spare resources that could be moved between teams
  • “protected” or designated resources whose role and time on specific teams could not be jeopardised

Individuals in HR or IT could also have designated roles to monitor the various aspects of “multi-teaming”.

About the author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.) Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  

RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals).

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. 

She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

Knowledge Sharing – more than one reason and more than one way to do it


By Elisabeth Goodman, 7th April 2017

Cardiff Central Library

I am enjoying my first visit to Cardiff on two very sunny days in April, and combining a bit of sight-seeing with delivering the CILIP on-site course on Good Practices for Knowledge Sharing and Collaboration.  Spotting the rather impressive Central Library seemed an added reason to write a blog on knowledge sharing!

More than one reason for sharing knowledge

We know that people can be reluctant to share knowledge in the belief that doing so may result in them losing something – their uniqueness, indispensability, power even.  Yet hearing some of the success stories that my delegates tell about the times they have shared knowledge, and the impact that has had, should go some way towards convincing the skeptical.

Sharing knowledge brings value to the individual, and to the organisation.  It can be as simple as feeling that you have been helpful to someone and made their life easier and richer, and as ‘complex’ as resulting in cost savings to your company and improved customer service.  The gains from sharing knowledge can vastly outweigh the losses.

As an individual you can gain time as people no longer need to come to you with everyday questions.  You help to create a climate where others will be more willing to share their knowledge.  You gain recognition for the value you can bring to the organisation.  You have the satisfaction of knowing that you have contributed to improving the quality of work in your organisation.

And, as delegates discover when they try out some of the knowledge sharing techniques in the course, you can add new knowledge to your area of expertise as a result of sharing your knowledge with others!

More than one way of sharing knowledge

As delegates discover during the training course, there are many ways to share knowledge, they need not be difficult, and they can be fun!

Goldfish bowl illustration from “The Effective Team’s Knowledge Management Workbook”, RiverRhee Publishing 2016

We use the gold fish bowl as a way of exploring a topic in which two or more people have some expertise and others are interesting in learning about.  The ‘experts’ sit in the middle of the room, and have a conversation about what they know, challenges they’ve dealt with, opportunities they envisage.

Those on the outside are asked to take notes on they key points that they hear, and to then play those back.  It concentrates the attention of the listeners and so enhances their learning.  For the ‘experts’ it’s an opportunity to enjoy talking about what they know, and can also reinforce their awareness of their expertise.

It’s a simulation, in a relatively short space of time, of what people might expect to gain from “Communities of Practice”, or “Centres of Excellence” – where people have the opportunity to gather, across organisational silos, with colleagues who have related areas of expertise.  These can be short term, or longer term structures to address specific organisational problems, or provide opportunities for continuing professional development.

Other approaches we explore on the course include “Ask the Expert”, “Peer Assists”, “Learning Reviews”, “After Action Reviews” and also the use of storytelling.  Like the gold fish bowl, these provide a structure for the exchange of knowledge between those who have experiences, insights, expertise to share, and those who have questions that they would like to address.

As our delegates find, sharing knowledge in these various ways is not only enlightening but also enjoyable, and very beneficial to both the individual, and the organisation.  Sometimes it can result in a very pleasant surprise!

Torta della nonna – at San Martino, Cardiff – my treat to finish off a very enjoyable meal as a result of surfing TripAdvisor for recommended restaurants!

About the author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We use training, facilitation, coaching, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  

RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals).

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner.  

She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she is a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.