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Get Your Team To Share the Information That Matters Most

The value in teams is the ability to combine brainpower to share information and come up with the best thinking possible. But what happens when the team is scattered all over the place? How do leaders get important information, and also capture and share the stuff that "everyone knows" but isn't written down any place?

That "everyone knows" stuff is called tacit information, and it's often critical to project and team success. It's things like how to get around an approval process, or who will work hard to expedite your request. This information often sits out in your team, but it's hard to capture and share in a way that everyone can access and use. How do you get people to open up and share information, especially when it's on a conference call or virtual meeting?

Katrina Pugh is the founder of AlignConsulting and author of Sharing Hidden Know-How . It tells how to facilitate knowledge-transfer using conversation so that not only does know-how end up in new products and processes, but productive knowledge-sharing relationships occur.

What's the challenge for managers in getting people to build trust and share tacit information?
For many organizations, knowledge is power. We're valuable to our boss because we can do something she can't simply automate or move offshore. It's even more unsettling when we're remote and much of our brilliance is invisible to many of our teammates. So, when management asks employees and teams to talk about what they know, they may put up their guard.

On the other hand, motives for not sharing knowledge may be far less fear-driven. I might not share with you because I don't know what you need to know. (Or, I don't know that I have any knowledge that could be even remotely valuable to you.) I want you to succeed, but I can't see your whole context.

What are some ofthe things that need to be said or done to help tacit knowledge emerge effectively?
Prework pays off: Having people enter the virtual room with a sense of purpose and curiosity is the result of the one-on-ones and topic-setting. (We all know how scattered conversations can be without an agenda or alignment on why we're there.)
Openings matter: You have to set the stage (and even re-set the stage) to keep people thinking on several levels -- our collective insights and the intrigue in the moment. (Our virtual lives are chaotic, and we need help shifting gears.)
Make it Explicit: Typing the notes in a structured way on Webex or LiveMeeting or GoogleDocs slows the meeting down and makes people reflect more on what they and others have said. When you see your words captured or paraphrased, you know you're being heard. (Have you ever attended a "leave no trace" meeting? Did you wonder if it all fell on deaf ears?)
Finally, Put knowledge to work: This isn't the responsibility of the manager/facilitator but of the participants. But, we can increase the likelihood that action will follow if we give the people who are applying the knowledge to say what they'll do with it, before they leave the virtual room. And it can't hurt to keep those intentions alive in future plans or meetings. (After people have shared their insights, they hope to make an impact. Letting it drop without explanation can be like an insult.)
The bottom line is to prioritize the group's shared knowledge ahead of yourself. Pugh calls this "common curiosity." One ground rule is never to hold a "Knowledge Jam" conversation longer than 90 minutes. Anyone can pay attention for 90 minutes if the conversation is meaningful and aimed at informing action.

As managers, we're responsible for setting the tone and creating the right environment. Leading good meetings, especially online is one of the hallmarks of great (or even competent) leadership in the 21st century.

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photo by flickr user ~diP CC 2.0

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