Knowledge management is about getting the right knowledge to the right person at the right time, so that they can help their organisation succeed and Knowledge Managers sometimes use the metaphor of “building the cathedral and the bazaar” to explain what we do. The “cathedral” is our online knowledge database: a place full of quality assured, curated, accessible documents such as standard protocols, legal precedents and best practice notes. The “bazaar”, in contrast, is the place where complex knowledge is exchanged between people through discussion and flows around our organisation in a haphazard manner.
For most organisations, the swift move to remote working in 2020 caused by the pandemic lockdown led to an improved understanding of the benefits of the cathedral, in particular the value of secure remote access to standard documents and best-practice processes written into management systems. But once this initial challenge to re-create the cathedral remotely was overcome, a more complex challenge became apparent: how can organisations re-create the bazaar? How can we replace the myriad of informal interactions which are integral to the delivery of products and services based on complex, difficult-to-express knowledge? If office workers can no longer “pop their head around the door” of an expert to talk through a course of action, or informally chat with a peer whilst making coffee, how can they develop the best products and services for their customers?
Given that many organisations anticipate that, post pandemic, office-based employees will continue to work remotely up to 50% of the time, this question has become incredibly important in some sectors, including the legal sector, so over the past six to twelve months I have been talking to Heads of Knowledge and senior leaders in law firms to gather practical ideas for overcoming this challenge.
For tactical knowledge sharing and decision-making meetings, it’s been found that shorter, more frequent meetings and also meetings which leave time for wide-ranging discussions can be helpful, as is substituting some traditional training events with “ask-anything” sessions.
To support the experiential learning of new lawyers, traditional learning through observation and apprenticeship has been somewhat replicated by having senior and junior lawyers work alongside each other virtually through video calls, although most senior leaders had to quickly learn the need to be sensitive to differences in circumstances, as junior lawyers often had less workspace at home.
Other ideas that law firms mightn’t traditionally have used, but are now gaining in popularity are working out loud circles11, coaching groups22 and action learning sets3, and simple topic-based Teams channels have been working well for Q&As.
Lastly, for general relationship building and trust-building, firms have been learning more about each other through Desert Island Discs/5 random questions videos or articles, “tea and biscuits chat” meetings, Teams chats and networks based around non-legal divisions (perhaps sports or hobbies), charitable fund-raising and diversity networks, traditional in-house newsletters, and expanding traditional lunch n learns to include different legal teams.
Hopefully some of these ideas might work for your organisation, and if you’ve found some other great ideas for building relationships inside your organisation to support complex knowledge sharing, I’d love to hear about them. Let me know your thoughts via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.