itSMF Knowledge Café

Melbourne laneway café

Last week, the NSW branch of the itSMF held a knowledge café for the first special interest group session of 2013. Paul Bodie and I facilitated the session together with a group of 18-or-so service management professionals. We explored both the Gurteen approach to knowledge cafés and the original version that was developed in the 1990s.

For our Gurteen session we formed three tables—if we’d had a couple more people we would have split into four tables of five—and we began by discussing a single topic: The most successful service improvement programs include…

We had two table changes, each after 10-15 minutes of conversation, where 2-3 people would shift and continue the topic discussion with others. The topic discussion concluded with a group conversation where participants shared insights that surfaced during their smaller group discussions. Executive sponsorship of improvement programs was a key theme but we also identified that our topic may have been too broad. Taking notes was discouraged but a few of us couldn’t help ourselves. 😉

Our second session was in the style of a World Café. Again, we had our three tables, but this time, each on had a different question to explore.

1. What worked well and what could have been improved in the previous knowledge café process?

2. How could you use the knowledge café in your workplace?

3. How could a knowledge café session leverage social media?

We ended up having a knowledge café about knowledge cafés. How meta. 😉 Lots of interesting threads emerged, like is it actually a knowledge café if you involve remote people through social channels? And the answer is no, really, because a knowledge café is all about the comfortable, cosy setting drawing out the tacit knowledge related to the question being asked. I could call this frictionless knowledge transfer in one respect, because a layer of technology can add awkward delay issues and it strips emotion and tone.

A café-like setting (or a pub atmosphere) isn’t available in most workplaces, so the ability to take this sort of exercise off-site was a popular preference.

We had participants suggest that a timer be displayed so we would know when the end was nearing so we could be sure and say what we might not have got around to saying yet. We also thought providing people with the topics beforehand would be helpful, as well as giving them the opportunity to post their own preferred topics anonymously.

It was a great afternoon and I think everyone took something away from it to hopefully adapt for their own teams and environments.

Knowledge Cafés and Cultural Variances

I’ve been nursing an addiction to LinkedIn groups—itSMF and knowledge management groups, in particular. One term that’s been coming up a lot is knowledge café. A knowledge café is a facilitated workshop, occurring in the workplace, that assists in a sort-of goal-oriented conversation. Conversations we could have at work with the intention of sharing knowledge and building on our professional relationships. David Gurteen is a well-known facilitator of knowledge cafés around the world.