Sharing and learning: the ‘glue and grease’ of comms and (I)KM

The ‘glue and grease’ – what a horrible expression!!!

The glue and grease: sharing/learning (Credits: GaryPuppa)

The glue and grease: sharing/learning (Credits: GaryPuppa)


The first time I heard a former colleague of mine use that expression to refer to the role of communication I didn’t like it either.

But I’ve got to say that until I find a better expression for it, it’s a pretty accurate description of what our (then) comms team was supposed to be to others: the glue that brings everyone together, and the grease that lets knowledge flow easily.

But the ‘glue and grease’ only happens when the sharing (and learning) in KM comes together with communication.

Not many organisations have a KM unit that covers knowledge sharing. Not many companies have a comms team that looks into the learning and sharing that true agile KM offers… In a typical (research for) development organisation, one finds a ‘comms’ unit that typically takes care of media contacts, press releases, corporate communication and public relations, and generally publications. It’s the ‘big mouth’ of an organisation. And then one finds a ‘KM’ unit which essentially is an information management unit taking care of databases and portals and all kinds of information systems etc. That’s the ‘legs’. But where are the hands and arms that join forces and the brains that connect all actions with intentions?

The glue and grease is the sharing and learning (not in a literal, respective manner). And it’s time to bring comms and KM together, to power comms with KM inside, to pay a central attention to processes of sharing and learning. So: what are you doing in your organisation or environment, to ensure there is this glue and grease?

And add that to your process literacy kit, please 😉

Image from page 344 of "Anthony's photographic bulletin for .." (1870)

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3 thoughts on “Sharing and learning: the ‘glue and grease’ of comms and (I)KM

  1. Yes. That’s very true,Ewen. The sharing and learning should be an integral part of communication. The public relations, the media, publication etc role, of the Communication department/section has been there for a long time now. While there are interesting theories about how a KM should work in an organization, I haven’t come across an organization that can set a very good example of KM at work. I believe there must be some somewhere!

  2. Hi Jaap,

    Thank you for your reflections!
    Yes KS is harder in organisations, though once people agree with it based on a good engaging process it becomes easier than in networks.
    And yes organisations need to embrace networks but most of them don’t understand network dynamics and are not ready to let go of the control that organisational hierarchies give them a feeling of having (while it may not be true in practice).
    Comms can be the stuff that hierarchies are made of indeed, but again as network dynamics dawns on organisations, having comms be together with KM (as in KS+IM+learning) seems a possible third way that goes beyond the ‘will you wordsmith this for me please?’ and ‘get your comms team to contact media for our big launch’ to get into real engagement, collaboration and results.
    The glue of organisations is definitely discourse(s) and conversations, official or not. The grease, is the lunches but if done well all the other processes that give space for people to share and learn. And that is not static either, it keeps on morphing – glue and grease are themselves on slippery slopes…

    Thank you and until soon!


  3. Hi Ewen,

    Glue, grease, baton, carrot, left, right, structure, liberation, always in between and torn, navigating, zwei Seelen in eine Brust, the good and the better, with or without facilitator 🙂

    The theory of relativity is easiest to grasp when imagining oneself on an atom – sort of steady in the ‘atom universe’ with electrons swinging around – opposed to the view from the electron roller-coasting between atoms 🙂 And from complexity we know strange attractors and path dependency. So glue & grease …. depend where you are.

    Back to KS & Learning. For sure the two modi operandus for contemporary development. In my most recent experience at a World Bank fishbowl event, learning by KS is stressed.

    Combining the two aboves, I grasp KM – starting from KM – as KS plus IM. Indeed when KS is lacking, void, bureaucratic box ticking, preposterous or suffers, IM occupies the design space (that is development new-speak following paradigm shift and transformative). But still in the end you have to KM ….. 🙂

    However from a learning perspective we perceive the need for – non academic, most adult – personal learning in groups by KS; IM is left for later and IT integrates with hand helds, on a permissive personal level.

    To shape learning in organisations – to me – seems even more difficult than in networks. People join networks as volunteer and people can only volunteer knowledge. Perhaps organisations need to embrace networks – in and outside the organisational legal walls -, including the collateral’s.

    Comms however in organisations is the stuff hierarchies are made of. Comms favor IM, exactly how you described it 🙂 Comms combined with KM? Lets just start understanding high bandwidth, face to face comms is best for KS.

    So the glue is the discourse, the dialogue, the conversation – liberated or not on knowledge co-created / shared / transferred and the grease is in lunch 🙂

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