Many work teams today are distributed geographically, culturally, or in different time zones. But trust is required before real knowledge-sharing can happen. This is especially the case of sharing complex knowledge which requires strong social ties for trusted professional relationships.
“Being motivated to share what you know with others requires trust — not only trusting those others (something that is diminished with competition), but also trusting the larger institution within which the sharing of expertise is occurring.” —Hinds & Pfeffer (2003)
However, new ideas come from diverse networks with structural holes, often outside the organization. Therefore increasing innovation requires weak and diverse social ties.
“Connections drive innovation. We need input from people with a diversity of viewpoints to help generate innovative new ideas. If our circle of connections grow too small, or if everyone in it starts thinking the same way, we’ll stop generating new ideas —Tim Kastelle (2010)
Effective knowledge networks are open and trust emerges through transparency as well as the acceptance of diverse ideas and opinions. It’s all about the breadth and diversity of our social connections.
“We learned that individual expertise did not distinguish people as high performers. What distinguished high performers were larger and more diversified personal networks.” —Rob Cross, et al (2004) The Hidden Power of Social Networks
In social networks, the optimal knowledge seeking strategy is cooperation — giving freely with no expectation of direct compensation. By contributing to our networks we increase our reputation and increase our connections. The network gives back to us. Meanwhile in work teams we are usually collaborating — working together for a common objective. In project teams we are focused on getting things done.
Communities of practice provide the connective space between loose social networks and more tightly constrained work teams. Communities are not committees or project teams. People want to join communities of practice. Members feel affinity for their communities of practice. Communities of practice are centred on learning and improving as a professional. You know you are in a community of practice when it changes your practice. Communities of practice are becoming an essential component of getting knowledge work done.
Organizations need to make time and space available for conversations inside teams, across teams, and outside the organization. They should find ways to capture some of the learning from communities and use it in work teams. Give each professional the latitude in determining what is best to share. Use different methods and tools for different communities and networks. Basically, provide a safe space for ideas to flow.
Individual sense-making and sharing skills can be developed through personal knowledge mastery. PKM is a process of filtering from our networks and communities, creating individually and with our teams, and then discerning with whom and when to share. The next online workshop starts in January.