When an icebreaker isn’t just an icebreaker

I was invited to present a workshop as a guest speaker for a team off-site, recently. It was an express introduction to knowledge management and the group I presented to were enthusiastic about knowledge, even though they hadn’t yet implemented any KM programs. This particular group of people are managers in different roles across the IT operations team. There are a couple of challenges for them to work with: their team is distributed around the country, and they work in a traditional industry that could be subject to fallout from an ageing workforce.

When I do a knowledge management workshop, I like to start by getting everyone’s name and job title. There’s nothing new in that, and it’s more helpful to me than them, especially when they already know each other.
But I also keep three columns of numbers.

The first is how long each person has had that specific role; the second is how long they’ve worked in that organisation; and finally, how long they’ve worked in the same industry—that could be IT, or the business of what their organisation does.

I like this opening exercise because, not only does it give me the cues I need to remember who’s in my workshop, but it demonstrates the amazing amount of collective experience that’s in the room with me. That industry experience, together with the years of experience in the context of the organisation, informs the decisions each person makes in their role every day.

This realisation really highlights the potential of knowledge sharing in an organisation like this one.


  • Glenn Murray

    I’d imagine the biggest challenges to knowledge sharing / knowledge workshops would be getting people to overcome their:

    1) need for ‘job security’; and
    2) prejudices about what of value so-and-so can offer (having known him for years and having developed a potentially unfounded opinion of his worth?

    Do you find these to be big problems? If so, how do you work around them?

    • Number one is the…well, number one objection I hear. The management must demonstrate their belief in knowledge sharing so the culture of the organisation can also grow to reflect it. On an individual level, try appealing to their interest in being involved in other meatier and challenging projects. If we’re bogged down in doing the same things over and over again because we aren’t sharing what we know of those things, then we’re doomed to sweat the small stuff forever. Helping others to grow reveals opportunities for our own growth. But the organisation has to stop rewarding the knowledge-hoarding heroes for that to work.

      On number two: I suggest more casual events like knowledge cafés, which take the pressure of expectation away and allow everyone an opportunity to contribute to conversation around a designated topic. more on knowledge cafés here:

      • Glenn Murray

        I’d imagine some examples of growth opportunities could help with no.1 too. And yeah, taking people outside the work environment they’re used to can have an amazing effect, can’t it?


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