Siloed organisations; knowledge in the hallways, knowledge in the walls.
There is a clear view than knowledge lies in the “walls” and the “hallways” between the “rooms” of an organisation. Here are some of the implications of this view for Knowledge Management.
This blog post was inspired by a post from Nancy Dixon entitled Where Is The Only Place Employees Share Their Knowledge? (The Hallways of Learning). If you haven’t read Nancy’s excellent post, please do so and then come back, as I want to expand on some of the ideas it raises.
Nancy talks about knowledge and learning in an organisation using 3 metaphors:
- Learning in “private rooms”, and under this heading she talks about individuals learning for themselves, and creating their own understanding.
- Learning in the hallways, where individuals get together and create shared understanding, and
- Learning, or Knowledge, in the Storerooms of knowledge; the storerooms being the collections of knowledge created through the hallway conversations.
Hallways are the only space where it is possible for an organization to learn. It cannot learn in the Private Offices, although individual learning can certainly take place there. It cannot learn in the Storeroom, where it is only possible to affirm what is already known. If organizations are going to learn, they will need to construct Hallways in which the in-depth exploration of meaning can occur.
Silos and hallways
- teams that learn only from their own experience, see potential performance gains of 40% on average;
- when teams learn from experience of the other teams in the classroom, they see potential performance gains of 80% on average, and
- when teams use all the historical knowledge from all past teams (the knowledge in Nancy’s storeroom), they see actual performance gains of, on average, 220%.
Where are the hallways in hybrid organisations?
The real hallways of our organizations will not suffice for the level of organizational learning that is necessary. Rather, organizations to need to develop processes that have the positive characteristics of real hallways, yet are more focused and intentional.
Increasingly that focused intentional activity needs to happen in a hybrid world. And here we see an added challenge. As the Microsoft study showed, in an online or hybrid world, the silos are strengthened. Proportionately more interaction tends to happen within teams, in “Team Space” while proportionately less happens in the walls and hallways between the team spaces. I quote from the study;
Our results suggest that shifting to firm-wide remote work caused the collaboration network to become more heavily siloed—with fewer ties that cut across formal business units or bridge structural holes in Microsoft’s informal collaboration network—and that those silos became more densely connected. Furthermore, the network became more static, with fewer ties added and deleted per month. Previous research suggests that these changes in collaboration patterns may impede the transfer of knowledge and reduce the quality of workers’ output.
In other words, in a hybrid world the silos are strengthened and the hallways begin to disappear. This is a real risk for KM.
So what can we do?
None of the above is new. However in a hybrid world, it needs to become, in Nancy’s words, more focused and more intentional if we are to open the hallways and release the knowledge trapped in the walls.
Tags: knowledge seeking, knowledge sharing, knowledge transfer