Last Friday I gave a spontaneous (read: non annually planned, unofficial) KM/Learning and identity workshop for the amazing networked organisation Except (Integrated Sustainability consultancy) founded by my mate Tom Bosschaert. Except is one of those few very modern coming-of-age-like companies with a core staff of 7-8 people and 50 associates satelliting and scintillating around, getting involved in Except projects as and when. The company’s bustling and buzzing and shows incredible dynamism.
The whole experience was great for many personal reasons (1) and it struck me also what the process was for a medium networked company like Except to embrace KM (2).
- The networked organisation – certainly Except – is incredibly likely to respond to shifting knowledge challenges and it keeps attracting amazing talent and enthusiasm that finds energy in the multi-disciplinarity aligned around a like-minded perspective on the purpose and operating mode of the company;
- The company’s decentralised structure has implications on the (wide) team’s ability to follow ‘organisational’ developments: not everyone is around and working on the organisation permanently. A lot of knowledge initiatives have been tried out at Except, but the people involved were not often the same. People discover changes by layers, with possible information asymmetries;
- It also seems to trigger a slight chasm around the use of information systems: not everyone knows where to find what information. That is luckily compensated for by the enthusiasm of the associates and their willingness to catch up, explore and try things out. The fact that not everyone is around when participatory consultation processes and training sessions are taking place challenges the uptake and use of these systems across the board;
- The documentation of work processes is also more difficult to encourage and ensure, although it is that type of process work that makes it easier for such organisations to keep thriving and build upon past efforts;
- The organisation rests upon a balance between making effective use of the expertise, potential and aspirations of each staff member and associate on the one hand, and the collective vision and mission of Except. In this sense it is crucial for Except to channel the personal development of its people and to organise regular moments of creative navel-gazing, to keep the balance and conditions to improve over time. The monthly 1-on-1 talks that Except management has with staff and associates and the type of workshops like this one (not the first of its type) seem to cover this very well now
- The central element of the KM/learning puzzle for this organisation and I suspect for other networked organisations is to stimulate healthy and relevant conversations that challenge the boundaries of Except’s work and at the same time anchor these conversations towards the very purpose of the organisation. And these conversations also mean rubbing where it hurts, in spite of all the undeniably great achievements, as well as repeating some conversations over and over again until the critical mass is on board. Patience, the (seemingly) ungrateful of change processes…
I think Except is doing remarkably well on many of the aspects mentioned above. But communication can never be crystalclear enough, and cooperation can never be seamless enough, so we keep ‘polishing the Ferrari’ as Tom would colourfully say. And I reckon, as we speak, there’s a whole polish team at work, embracing KM in its slow and dirty implications. Make it glow team!
For that workshop I gave the following presentation. It’s not perfect, far from it, but I hope it gives some directions on the importance and opportunities of KM and learning for a modern company like Except.
Now the pictures are up, the list of references mentioned in the presentation has been passed and I just have to write a report about this workshop – documenting the process, a sadly necessary evil!
(1) It was one of the very few workshops I organised in Europe, with mostly ‘Northern’ participants, around the central topic of identity (something I never do) and without much understanding of the nature of the organisation and its working mode – other than what Tom and his co-director Eva would tell me in the preparation sessions. And it was a workshop for Tom and Eva which makes it easier and more difficult as mixing friendship with work is like playing on a double-edged sword.
(2) Though of course Except had indeed done a lot of ‘KM work’ without calling it that way, from organising brainstorming meetings and regular personal development interviews, developing a wiki for procedures and information etc.