19 March 2013

Collaboration at the Gurteen Knowledge Cafe

The Gurteen Knowledge Community returned to the Westminster Business School to discuss collaboration.

This was my second time there and that last was with Gurteen too. Unfortunately that was a few years BB (Before Blog) so I do not know exactly when that was or what we discussed.

I do remember enough of the venue though to notice some of the changes that had been made in the intervening years. This time we were in a large room of the main reception area with glass wall on two sides. That made us very visible and apparently that had taken some getting used to by some of the staff but I have worked in open plan offices for many years so the visibility did not matter to me.

Our host for the evening was Gurteen Cafe stalwart Keith Patrick, as it had been the last time that we were there.

Keith opened by saying a little about Westminster University and I was surprised to hear that it was celebrating its 175th birthday.

We were then given our topic for the evening - collaboration.

Keith made the point that in recent years new technologies have brought us more tools to collaborate with but these had not made collaboration more natural or more common.

We were asked to consider how we could encourage collaboration, and to do this with our own organisations in mind rather than treating this as an academic exercise.

As is usual at Gurteen Cafes, we discussed this in small groups of 4 to 6 people for about fifteen minutes or so then we moved tables to mix the conversations for another fifteen minutes and then swapped again to mix some more for a further fifteen minutes. This cross-fertilisation of ideas by moving people around is a key element of the evenings and is instrumental to their success.

These are some of the notes that I took during these conversations.

The new technologies can be useful but they are not a prerequisite. Old technologies can work too, e.g. email. We should use what is available and what people are comfortable with.

Whatever tools we use we need to be prepared to seed and moderate conversations until momentum builds and the conversations become self-sustaining.

Two motivators for collaboration are learning and boasting.

There needs to be a purpose for collaboration and this needs to be understood by everybody in the conversation. This could be as simple and specific as saying what information is required (e.g. examples of good practise) or as broad as a framework for contribution explaining the scope of the conversations and the rules that apply, e.g. it must be work related and behaviour must be professional.

One approach is to create a place to share, e.g. a group of experts. There is prestige of being seen to be an expert.

It is not always down to the facilitator, we could all Invite people to participate, e.g. by asking, "Why don't you blog?", or by asking questions to get somebody to answer.

Must be realistic about what you can achieve, even with a lot of pushing not everybody will join in.

If collaboration is seen as an important part of corporate culture then companies should explain the ground rules during recruitment.

Should also be prepare to criticise bad behaviour, e.g. knowledge hoarding, use sticks as well as carrots.

Seeking is as important as sharing, receive as well as give.

We make sharing and collaboration decisions all the time, but we do not always recognise them as such.

The value of sharing can come from the connections that are made. Connections make conversations that build trust.

Collaboration is a selfish activity. All parties have personal motivations for asking for and giving information.Why are we all collaborating at the Knowledge Cafe tonight?

Sharing is the same as learning. It helps us to understand what we know.

We must be a really nice group of people. Almost all our ideas for encouraging collaboration are carrots, there are few sticks.

In a slight change from the usual we collected our ideas on post-it-notes which we then clustered on one of the walls. I am not sure that this step added much value from the table conversations but most people seemed to get involved in this so I may have been in a minority in thinking this.

The evening ended with a whole group session where we exchanged our main learnings from the evening. This part was facilitated by David himself.

That ended the Cafe as such though a few of us went to the Wetherspoons across the road to have some more conversations, they are addictive.

This was another highly interesting Gurteen Knowledge Cafe and it managed to shed some new light on an old topic. There were real lessons learnt that each of us could take back to our organisations.

1 comment:

  1. David

    The Knowledge Cafes are great and achieve a picture of what is possible given the benefit of a learning environment. But there is more to consider and I have not yet thought of a way to overcome what I psrcieve as an obstacle in real life organisations.

    The organisational politics and power relationshiops which exist in the real world are not considered or realised in the exercises.

    How can one deal with this?


    Terence Freedman


All comments are welcome. Comments are moderated only to keep out the spammers and all valid comments are published, even those that I disagree with!