Thursday, 14 July 2016

What's in your left-hand column?

In the last blog post, we looked at some of the ways in which knowledge management (KM) consultants help their clients before raising the importance of culture and how it can be analysed, shaped and changed through various interventions.
Whilst surveys, workshops and interviews can help provide an overview of a team, department or whole organisation, individuals can also get a sense of the tiny part they play in shaping and sustaining the culture, for good or bad.
Honesty lies at the heart of KM and successful KM often depends on the extent to which staff feel able to share their experiences openly with one another.
Good lesson learning relies on teams discussing the successes and failures of a project without fear or favour.
Best practice creation and transfer requires experts identifying and sharing the little ‘nuggets’ of know-how that may lie buried deep within their consciousness.
But these and other KM techniques can be hampered if people feel unable to share their ideas, thoughts and feelings and instead choose to omit, cover up or even lie about their experience.
This can be hard because we are all human and, being human, 4 rules apply:

·        We like to be popular and/or respected;

·        We don’t like being unpopular and/or disrespected;

·        We don’t like being embarrassed;

·        We don’t (unless we are sociopathic) like embarrassing other people.
These 4 rules make it hard for us to talk honestly about difficult subjects unless we trust the people we’re with and are confident we’re safe to do so.
An excellent tool that can show how tricky total honesty can be is the so-called ‘left-hand column’ exercise.
You can try this for yourself:

·        Think of a conversation you had recently that felt difficult in some way – it might have taken place with a colleague, your boss, a friend or relation;

·        Take some blank paper and draw a line vertically down the centre of the page;

·        On the right-hand side, write up the conversation like the dialogue in a script or screenplay; no need to recall each exchange verbatim but capture the essence of between 5 and 10 minutes’ worth.  This may take 15-30 minutes, depending on how much detail you capture;

·        Now, having written up the key exchanges, go back through and, in the left-hand column, write up what you were actually thinking before or whilst you uttered your own words;

·        Carry on throughout the whole conversation and then read back your own thoughts;

·        Now, have a think about the difference between what you said and what you were actually thinking at the time, considering the following questions:

o   Why is there a difference and what prevented you from sharing your true thoughts with this person?

o   What would need to happen for you to feel comfortable to share those thoughts?

o   What might the other person’s ‘left-hand column’ look like?

o   Can you imagine what life at work (or home) would be like if we were able to share our left-hand columns?

How can we make that happen?
This exercise can be done individually or as part of a workshop, provided people are reassured beforehand that they will not be expected to share anything unless they feel comfortable in doing so.  As part of organisational learning cultural change programmes, the left-hand column exercise can help people identify the ‘blockers’ that impede effective learning from experience, as well as some of the ‘undiscussables’ that remain unsaid and will always damage such efforts until they are (a) discussed and (b) addressed.
Our paper on Organisational Learning Culture is available from the Knoco website’s downloads page.
For a conversation about the left-hand column exercise in particular, or organisational learning and knowledge management in general, please contact me direct or via the Knoco website.

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