Collaborating Large and Small – Sharing Knowledge Far and Wide

Business Analysis Training - Collaboration

The invisible man.  Now there is the some who is truly transparent.  Maybe a little too transparent because you don’t know if he’s actually in the room.  Being transparent is an important step in collaboration but let’s face it – it’s hard to share and collaborate when you are invisible.

Sharing knowledge is about building trust with colleagues.  No one likes or trusts an information hoarder.  Organizations and teams can’t grow and innovate without the flow of ideas, information and lessons learned.  Sharing creates the open environment where creativity and invention can flourish.  Educate everyone, just just the people you are currently collaborating with.  Bring a common understanding to a wider audience.

Sharing and presenting to larger audience can be frightening.  It’s a lot of exposure and visibility that can be overwhelming.  Sharing to a large audience in an organization provides a huge impact on the organization but sharing in small teams also has a big impact. Sharing and presenting to either a large or small audience takes a little planning and preparation.  Prepare your ideas, lessons learned and information in an easily digestible format.  Find a way to make the complex very simple.  The larger the audience the more important it is to use simple, direct and visual messages. 

The first time I stepped on a stage to share my ideas was terrifying.  I really wasn’t prepared at all.  I knew my stuff well but really didn’t think how it would be received by my audience.  I didn’t take my audience into consideration at all when preparing my presentation and information to share.  I approached it as though everyone had the same conclusions and perceptions that I had.  It was a total and complete disaster of epic proportions.  I lectured on my idea that reduced cycle time on a process by 90%.  At the end of the presentation, everyone hated the idea even though cycle times were reduced dramatically.  I was devastated.  Why did my great idea just get black listed?  My boss at the time pulled me aside and told me “You need to connect to them better and show them how it benefits them directly.  Right now it’s sounds like you want to change everything for the sake of change, not to improve their work lives.  Management loves the idea. Don’t give up.”  Yup – WIIFM was born.  (What’s in it for me?)

The presentation was re-created to present the overall idea differently.  I threw out the overly complex microscopic slides on process details and instead created new slides which showed the process in a simpler way.  Slides were added in about the impacts to each team involved in the process that stated more clearly how it would impact their team’s daily work.  The presentation was given to each team separately to make up for my initial mistake and get their agreement.  After a lot of presentations, the process improvement did occur.  It’s a good lesson that I haven’t forgotten.

We sometimes shy away from publicly sharing information for the fear of our ideas or perceptions being rejected or ignored.  You can lead the horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.  Rejection is not that your ideas are bad.  They may very well be misunderstood or unclear. Take the criticism gracefully and learn from it.  Even share what you learned from the criticism.  Everyone has a different perspective to an issue and understanding all those perspectives makes your information sharing more powerful.  It puts you in the collaboration spotlight.  Think of it this way – you got people to talk about the subject at hand and even contribute to it.  There might be criticism – maybe even a lot of it – but it helps shape the idea.  Thoughtfully consider the criticism and whether you would like to use it to change or refine your ideas.  Rejecting all input – including criticism – leaves you blind to the perspectives of others. 

Sharing takes a lot of time and effort.  You need to prepare thoughtfully for the experience.  Keep the points or topics to as few as possible.  Keep the message simple and visual.  Be prepared to dive deeper and deeper in the details.  I prefer to have a simple slide which visually displays what I’m talking about up front.   If you go the text route, than 2-3 bullets with short quick sentences that are easy to read is best.  Don’t have 1,000 slides – just a few well-chosen ones are best.  Keep that font size large and plenty of white space to make it easier to read – remember those folks sitting in the back row.  Your slide shouldn’t look like an eye chart with huge text on the top and getting smaller and smaller as you move down the slide.  Keep the details in your back pocket and have the details to back up your ideas. 

Just be yourself.  Don’t try to be someone or something you are not – you will come across as a used car salesman or fake.  Show them who you are openly and honestly.  Smile – a lot.  Be energetic and thankful to your audience. 

Most folks like sharing in a good environment.  Make the sharing event just that – a fun event.  Don’t just pop up a black and white PowerPoint slide.  Bring fun toys, food, flowers or anything that will lighten up the room for sharing.  This gets back to knowing your audience.  When I was sharing ideas with executive admins the room had flowers and cool pens laying around.  When I was pitching ideas to developers I made sure bottles of Mountain Dew where in the room (it was their favorite drink – always bottles and never cans).  For one team I was working with, it was coffee and blueberry yogurt – a very specific blueberry yogurt.  Look for a team’s currency.  What helps them to be relaxed and open to ideas? 

The best share meeting I had was with a team of 4 that would go on walks.  On the mile and half walk we shared many ideas and lessons learned.  Every day we would gather together in the lobby and head out for a long walk to discuss our issues, share knowledge and help each other out.  Rain or shine.  If it got too cold, we simply walked around the inside of the building.  The experience was interesting and even healthy.  For some reason when we got together and just walked – no computers, no phones, no pens and paper – things just got easier to discuss.

Facilitate the sharing.  Make sure everyone in the room is engaged and participating.  To encourage participation, go around the room and give everyone a minute or two to give their thoughts.  Use an egg timer – we all love to talk and lose track of time.  Manage the confrontation by setting the expectation ahead of the meeting and at the start of the meeting that no perception or idea is a bad one.  Encourage everyone to be respectful of each other’s thoughts and to ask questions if they are not clear on anything.

Lessons learned can be the most powerful knowledge to have.  What went right, what didn’t go so well and even flat out asking what we learned is a treasure trove of good information.  Think of this in terms of giving a colleague, team or organization a leg up.  They didn’t go through the project like you did but giving them this information on what you and your team learned is priceless.  They can use that information to not repeat your mistakes, and repeat the thing that went well.  Mistakes of the past don’t need to be repeated if you are willing to learn from them.

Tips & Tricks sharing meetings are the best knowledge sharing meetings.  Just being able to show up and ask “Hey how does this work?” or “Is there a better way?” is awesome.  These types of sharing meetings are a little trickier because of the open format.  You will need an expert there or some way of capturing the idea or question for later follow-up.  There are many nuances and pitfalls I avoided in systems and processes because of these types of meetings.  Just sitting in these meetings with an open mind listening saved my bacon many times.

Sharing outside of your organization to the community at large is equally important.  Attending a local IIBA, PMI or user group meeting is a great opportunity to network and share data informally or formally.  Informally sharing is accomplished by talking with other colleagues in your industry.  Formally sharing requires listening to or giving a presentation.  Either way these organizations can be a great source of information sharing.  You are not alone in your industry.  Others out there have a perspective that might be helpful to you. 

Blogs are a great way of sharing.  Like this one.  Hey he’s practicing what he preaches!  Write a blog and submit it to sites or post it on linked in.  Help others to help themselves.  Don’t get caught up in having a billion followers to feel that your sharing is important.  You don’t need to write the great American novel either.  That’s total crap.  A short small blog of 500 – 1,000 words every now and then on a lesson learned is all you need.  Be careful to consider what your organization permits to share.  Don’t get into a flame war.  Don’t publicly point the finger at a specific person.  Keep it positive!  Try to write it in a fun way.  Make it sound like a conversation you are having with an old friend.  It really is a great feeling to write out how you overcame your roadblocks and issues. 

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