Originally published on November 4, 2017

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  • Published on November 4, 2017

This is adapted from my presentation, “Ten Tales from the Front Lines of Knowledge Management,” delivered at the KMWorld conference in November, 2011. It’s available at the bottom of this article.

1. Prima donnas — be vigilant, coach privately, stand up to them

In communities, KM programs, and organizations in general, the majority of people I have encountered are decent folks. But every so often a prima donna appears, and when they do, you need to be ready to counteract their negative impact.

Here are examples I have seen:

  • Loudmouth — “My opinion is that it was so ponderous, so turgid and overweight, with practitioners so lofty, rare and insular, that it was simply crushed by its own mountainous hubris.” Nugget: Suggest using a slightly less pretentious tone the next time.
  • Blowhard — “Does this mean that KM means taking ‘advantage of what people know’? If so, he has a vastly mistaken impression.” Nugget: Send a private message with a suggestion to use a more positive tone in future posts.
  • Bully — “I have taken over control. Now you will do things my way, or you will be considered insubordinate.” Nugget: If your KM program is moved under a bully, you have two choices. Wait for another change in reporting structure, or move on to work for someone else.
  • Braggart — “I am passionate about KM. Therefore, I should be put in charge of it.” Nugget: Demonstrate that skill, experience, and expertise are also needed to lead a KM program. Include the braggart in your efforts, and call their bluff by asking them to produce actual deliverables by a set deadline.
  • Egomaniac — “I am just shaking my head. You know so very little about what is going on outside your little spaces.” Nugget: Thank them for their participation, and offer examples of more effective ways to communicate.

2. Point/counterpoint — ask for feedback in the open, be respectful, maintain civility

Opposing view — When I wrote the Communities Manifesto, I solicited comments on the early versions. Most were very helpful, and I incorporated as many as possible in the final version. A few people disagreed with some or all of the ten principles I defined. When I asked them to elaborate on their positions, they didn’t provide any further details. Nugget: Request feedback from as many people as possible and apply it as best you can. If people attack your position, listen with an open mind, but insist that they back up their criticisms.

Certification wars — The subject of KM certification is controversial, and has sparked online flame wars between proponents and critics, and between competing certification providers. Patrick Lambe offers a detailed history in Money, Testosterone and Knowledge Management. Nugget: Arguing and making threats is unlikely to help your cause. Disagree respectfully, or keep quiet.

Monopolizing the discussion — Communities have different cultures — some more welcoming, and some more intimidating. In one active KM community, discussions are often about fundamental principles, abstract concepts, and theory. There are frequent back-and-forth exchanges between the same few people, often quoting each other to debunk opposing views. Others may be afraid to post due to the possibility of challenging responses, or because they lack the same rigor and fervor as the dominant posters. Nugget: Monitor discussions, and suggest to those who tend the post the most, that they take periodic breaks to allow others to have their say.

Piling on — For seven years, the Association of Knowledgework (AOK) Star Series Dialogues provided finite, moderated discussions that were lively and stimulating. There were some very knowledgeable and opinionated members, who were not shy about voicing their views in a spirited fashion. The community held regular online dialogues led by guest hosts during which a predefined set of topics were discussed for a week. This was an innovative and successful approach, but it also required guest hosts to hold their own during their stints when the opinionated members weighed in. During a few of these dialogues, the guest hosts struggled. In one case, the host just stopped responding, unwilling to stand in there and keep replying to the challenging posts. Nugget: If you are leading a discussion, presenting, or posting in an online forum, be prepared for challenging replies. Don’t take them personally; acknowledge shortcomings and difficulties, listen actively, and do the best you can. A good sense of humor also helps.

Transparency — When it was my turn to host the AOK Star Series Dialogue, the following exchange stood out:

  • John Doe> Agree wholeheartedly empowering people with the 3 Ts is the key — Truth, Trust and Transparency — but transparency needs to be driven from Board level and we need to do all simultaneously.
  • Me> Thanks for your many insights. I especially like the one on the 3 Ts. One example of transparency is Open-Book Management which I recall debating with managers at Digital in the past. This also relates to the open/closed tradeoff — how open are you willing to be with your employees? I prefer to be as open as possible, but other managers are at the other end of the spectrum, worrying about exposing too much information, and not trusting employees to treat confidential information as such.
  • John Doe> The 3 Ts have very little to do with “open book” — the 3 Ts are about getting the job done using 100% of brain power to prevent rework of any type — increase productivity by 100% through connectivity and empowerment — effectiveness and efficiency at the ALARP level of risk is the objective. Financials are no part of the 3 Ts but the outcome of the 3 Ts ensures that the company can shut the book on the competition.
  • Peter Marshall> I’ve been too busy to participate in this discussion, which is killing me, because Stan has provided a great perspective, great information, and raised some issues on which I have strong opinions. But I could not pass up this headline — my experience with transparency. My OWN experience is quite different. At first, I didn’t like it at all, because people wouldn’t talk to me. I would walk right up to them, and they would act like I wasn’t there! Then when I tried to enter the conversation, they would look all scared, and look around quickly, and back away. “Weirded out” is probably the best way to describe their reactions. But then it got to be fun. I could “manage by walking around” a lot more effectively, because I got to see how people were REALLY acting, how they handled things, what kinds of issues and problems they were facing, etc. Before my transparency, people would get all “politically correct” when I walked up — handling things, being mature and effective, sharing knowledge, and so on. But once I got transparent, I saw that people were anything but effective — emailing their friends about their Nordstrom shirts, taking long lunches with lobbyists, gaming the systems, withholding knowledge so that they could step in later and save the day, or get higher commissions than their colleagues. I really recommend it, especially for folks that tend to “believe their own BS” :-) — transparency is very revealing.
  • John Doe> Peter nice to hear your experience with Transparency — you described success in two properties of transparency — people and action. You changed your culture — now others can follow — it’s a great feeling to be innovative and successful at it. Now comes the point of entrepreneurship to make it happen elsewhere. So far, I have identified 8 properties of transparency — for which I am working on a provisional patent. The application of the 8 properties of transparency is organizational leadership and organizational competence — most organizations are full of competent people — yet they have catastrophic failures — designing transparency as a systemic management tool is the challenge — but will not happen unless a transparent change management system is in place that deals with business judgments. Hence the DEC and many other catastrophic business failures.
  • Me> “I really recommend it, especially for folks that tend to ‘believe their own BS’ “ Peter, your post made my day. You are a master of irony!

Nugget: When dealing with pompous, pretentious pontification, exploit your sense of humor.

The Jerk Store Called — My post about the DIKW pyramid scheme generated a lot of interest, including many comments. One comment stood out from the rest:

  • Johnny Doe> Do you have a particular point??
  • Me> Read the full article and the articles linked to in it.
  • Johnny Doe> No…. State the point or intent, and then I will decide to read or not. It is not a good approach to read on blind faith.”

Nugget: After one civil reply, don’t waste any further time or emotions responding to jerks.

3. Ask not, get not — redirect queries, use email to link to discussions, don’t reply to all

People are reluctant to openly ask questions or request help. They prefer to ask the person sitting in the next cube, contact a trusted colleague via instant message, or send an email to one to several people they think may be able to assist. They won’t post to a community or an enterprise social network (ESN), even when this is suggested as the most effective way. Nugget: I regularly receive email, LinkedIn messages, and other private communications posing questions about knowledge management. I usually reply with a suggestion to post in the SIKM Leaders Community and that I will be glad to answer there. If they do, I always try to reply and encourage others to do the same.

But frequently they don’t follow up with a post, in which case, their reluctance prevents them from receiving the very help they originally sought. Nugget: You can forward queries to communities or post them in an ESN on behalf of the requester. If after the request has been posted, there are no suitable answers, you can send email or private ESN messages to people who may be able to help, with links to the post, and a request to reply in the community or ESN.

One situation when people are NOT reluctant to speak up is when they receive an email message sent out to a large distribution list that they don’t believe they should have received. In this case, ever-increasing numbers of people will reply “take me off this list!” or “stop replying to all!” Nugget: The way to stop such an email storm is to NOT reply to all. If everyone just deletes the annoying email, it will quickly be forgotten.

4. Sounds of silence — plant questions, allow questions via text, allow asking anonymously

A similar problem is people who won’t speak up. This includes people who join communities but don’t pay attention to the community’s discussions or attend any of the calls. These join-only members may as well not have joined, as they get nothing out of being a member.

Those who don’t post, reply, or speak up on calls can still get value from community membership. Often derided as “lurkers,” they are merely part of the 90% of members who aren’t active. But as long a they pay attention, this is to be expected, and there is no problem with it.

Passive attendance is the norm on most calls. If you ask, “are there any questions?” you are typically met with silence. If you try to remedy that by calling on participants by name, you may hear a rash of exit tones as they drop off to avoid having to speak up.

Three nuggets for overcoming reticence:

  • Plant questions — ask a few people before the call to speak up when you open the floor for questions.
  • Allow questions via text — use group chat, Twitter, an ESN, or instant messaging to give those who prefer typing to speaking a way to ask their questions.
  • Allow asking anonymously — you can either post on behalf of people who don’t want their name to be visible, or provide an anonymous chat line for this purpose.

5. Don’t try this at home — make it easy for leaders to use the tools, spend 10 minutes each week, lend a hand

Leaders frequently want people to do as they say, not as they do. Not practicing what you preach sets a bad example. People will closely observe the actions of leaders and mimic them. If the people in charge fail to lead by example and model desired behaviors, it is unlikely that others will do what is being suggested. See Insight Number 3 for more on this.

Examples of failing to lead by example:

  • Leaders who endorse tools but don’t use them. For example, they tell everyone to fill in their expertise profile, but they don’t do this for themselves.
  • Leaders who continue sending email instead of posting in the ESN. They launch the ESN with much fanfare, and may even post on it during the rollout, but then they no longer do so.
  • Leaders who talk about social media, but don’t try it. They don’t tweet, accept LinkedIn invitations, or post in LinkedIn. But they fund social media strategies and campaigns without any first-hand understanding of how the tools actually work.
  • Leaders who use communications people or other staffers to ghost blog, post to the ESN, or use KM systems. People can tell that they are not actually doing these things themselves, and they lose the chance to set a good example and speak in their authentic voice.
  • I worked on the merger of Compaq and HP. Both companies had knowledge management programs that included communities of practice. I suggested that communities could really help combined company get off to a strong start by establishing connections on day 1 between people with similar specialties and roles in the two pre-merger companies. This was not done, and a great opportunity was missed. Employees continued to think of themselves as pre-merger Compaq or HP, rather than members of the new HP. Communities would have helped break down barriers by spanning boundaries and building on what people had in common, not was different.

Three nuggets for helping leaders to lead by example in knowledge management:

  • Make it easy for leaders to use the tools. Give them intuitive user interfaces, provide multiple ways to access systems, embed KM into existing processes, and keep things as simple as possible.
  • Spend ten minutes each week with leaders to guide them on what to do. For example, review ESN posts, and have them like some, reply to others, and initiate a few new posts of their own.
  • Lend a hand. Regularly make yourself available to answer questions. Send emails to leaders to which they can just reply to respond to an ESN post, or that include obvious links for them to click on to take some desired action. Guide them on how to use tools, sitting with them as they do so.

6. You’re out! — uphold your principles, warn and give one more chance, don’t put off making hard moves

Figurehead: not! — I was asked to be the co-leader of developing a corporate knowledge management strategy for Compaq. This was intended to be a figurehead role, with the actual work being done by a Big Four consulting firm. Instead, I insisted that the firm be replaced, because the only person who actually knew anything about KM was leaving the team. We engaged APQC instead, which was also located in Houston, and had much more experience with KM engagements. And I provide much of the expertise, which was not expected.

What goes around, comes around — I was later replaced as Compaq’s systems integration KM leader with an arrogant outsider. I left the company and joined HP as Americas KM leader. Imagine my surprise when I learned that HP was acquiring Compaq. My replacement at Compaq was selected to run the combined KM program, despite the fact that the HP incumbent was much better-suited to this role. As Americas KM leader, I was once again accountable to the person who had replaced me. I was respectful, but demanding. Two years later, I was asked to replace him. Patience, professionalism, and competence eventually won out.

The weakest link — When I took over the HP KM program, one of my former peers as regional KM lead now reported to me. He had always been quite talkative, but I had not paid a lot of attention to his actual performance. It turned out that he was ill-suited to the role, and his ineffectiveness reflected poorly on the overall reputation of our small KM team. I spent a lot of time in individual coaching, but it became clear that he would be able to meet the expectations of his job. I made the difficult decision to remove him and seek a replacement. I then pursued a highly-respected project manager who had left the KM team when the previous KM lead alienated many of the HP incumbents. My manager was skeptical that I would be able to get him to return, but I did. It turned around the perception of our team and program, and was one of the best moves that I made.

Removing community members — I lead the SIKM Leaders Community, which requires members to identify themselves when requesting membership. It started out as being just for KM practitioners in the systems integration industry, but we quickly opened it to all KM practitioners. Since its launch in 2005, I have only had to intervene twice based on posts in the discussion board.

A new member posted multiple times to promote his own community and events. I sent him a private email to remind him that members should not send messages which are duplicates of those distributed through other channels, and to post one-time invitations to join other lists instead. When he persisted, I removed him as a member. That was the only time I had to do so. He sent me a blistering attack in an email, which I ignored. When I later compared notes with other community managers, they told me that they had to do the same with this person.

Another new member replied to a couple of posts with harshly-worded criticisms. I sent him a private email to suggest that he take a more congenial approach to commenting. He replied to acknowledge my point, and shortly after, left the community voluntarily.

But be careful — removing members can have very negative consequences. Another KM community was once very active, but no longer exists. It was fully moderated — all posts had to go through the community manager, who edited each one before it was posted. When the community manager refused to post one member’s contribution, this led to an uproar. He then removed another vocal member, which in turn led several respected members to leave. This spelled the eventual demise of the once-lively community.

Three nuggets:

  • Uphold your principles. Don’t give in to political pressures. Do what is right. Even if you have short-term difficulties, you will be proved right in the long run.
  • Warn and give one more chance. If community members behave badly, privately let them know what they did wrong, and what the expected behavior is. If they continue to violate community norms, remove them.
  • Don’t put off making hard moves. If you have a poor performer, coach them and provide personal assistance. If they still can’t meet expectations, replace them with someone who can.

7. Fear factor — patience, persistence, perseverance

Many people are afraid of failure, blame, criticism, being judged, embarrassment, change, standing out, the unknown, taking the first step, losing control, or being responsible. Seth Godin wrote about this in Linchpin:

“The resistance (the lizard brain) exists to make you safe, which means invisible and unchanged. Signs that the lizard brain is at work:

  • Procrastination
  • You excessively criticize the work of your peers, thus unrealistically raising the bar for your work
  • You criticize anyone who is doing something differently. If they succeed, it means you’ll have to do something differently, too
  • Having an emotional attachment to the status quo
  • Inventing anxiety about the side effects of a new approach

Anxiety is just a pointless form of fear; it’s fear about fear. The resistance is really anxiety; real fear is a response to actual threats, and it’s a perfectly healthy response. Reality is the best antidote for anxiety.”

Common anxieties include:

  • Fear of openness, transparency, and trust — Many leaders prefer secrecy to transparency. They prefer that as few people as possible know what they are up to. This is can be caused by a lack of trust, and it results in an environment where people are reluctant to share. Nugget: Trust others until they give you reason not to.
  • Criticism, blame, second-guessing — Anxiety over these can lead to analysis paralysis, and a reluctance to decide or act. Nugget: The culture of the organization should encourage and celebrate those who take prudent risks, learn from failures, and support one another. Ask your senior leaders to declare that they will eliminate criticism, blame, and ridicule in all interactions with others, and that they expect everyone else to do the same.
  • Social media risk and blocking access — Some organizations are afraid that confidential information will be leaked through social media, and as a result, they try to block access to social media platforms. If someone is determined to leak information, they will find a way to do so, including using a personal device on a home network that is not blocked, or using email or the telephone. Nugget: Trust people to follow the organization’s confidentiality policies, and deal with violations if and when they occur. It’s actually better to know when leaks occur than to be ignorant of them, so social media is better in that it is transparent. For more on this, see Myth Number 8.
  • I don’t want to look like an idiot — Previous nuggets dealt with fears of posting in the open and speaking up on calls. Generally, people don’t want to embarrass themselves, and will go out of their way to fade into the woodwork to avoid appearing ignorant or wrong. Nugget: Praise, recognize, and reward those who are bold enough to post, reply, and speak. And get senior leaders to do this regularly. This will set the tone that rather than shame, positive things will result from overcoming the fear of looking bad.
  • Avoiding something new — whenever an innovative approach is proposed, it will encounter resistance from those who are afraid that it might not work. An example is when I proposed using a BarCamp for an all-hands meeting. The meeting planner was reluctant to try a different method, even though it sounded good, because it had not previously been used. Nugget: I spent a lot of time reassuring him that I would personally make sure that the new approach would succeed. Patience, persistence, and perseverance paid off in the end. Try things out by quickly implementing, continuously improving, and iterating. See Insight Number 2 for more.

8. Location, location, location — meet face-to-face periodically, allow people to work from where they prefer, inform colleagues in cities you will visit of your plans

Cancel the meeting! — Periodic, face-to-face meetings are needed for teams and organizations to establish and maintain trusting relationships. Bruce Karney wrote, “It is a dangerous delusion to believe that frequent face-to-face knowledge sharing meetings are a luxury. Face to face knowledge sharing is not a luxury. The pity is that in many organizations it is perceived as being one. There are indeed examples of effective knowledge sharing in the absence of face to face, but these are far outnumbered by examples of ineffective computer-based and phone-based collaboration.” According to Eric Ziegler,”Face-to-face meetings are an investment, not a cost. While people work remotely, meeting face-to-face is absolutely necessary to build stronger relationships, increase trust, and improve collaboration. This is an absolute must.”

But those who wish to plan and hold such meetings frequently are asked, “can’t you just use a video conference?” in order to avoid the costs. The irony is that the same senior leaders who don’t want the expense of others holding meetings will often hold frequent, low-value, in-person meetings for their leadership teams. When I was leading global KM teams, twice I was forced to cancel meetings that had already been planned. In one case, all of the expenses had already been incurred, so the cancellation did not save much money. It was done merely for appearances.

Nugget: Secure approval and funding for annual face-to-face meetings in advance. Work hard to prevent it from being cut. Plan and hold effective meetings that increase trust, enlighten and motivate attendees, and deliver positive results.

I’ve Been Moved! — It used to be the rule that when you accepted a new position in a different location, you would have to relocate there. That’s why I moved from St. Louis to Detroit in 1986. Modern modes of virtual work have changed this to where people can now remain where they currently live. But not always. I accepted one new job that required that I move to a different headquarters location. The idea was that there would be more serendipitous interactions if we all worked in the same building. But when I started working there, I noticed that not everyone would attend weekly team meetings in person. They remained at their desks and dialed in, even though the meetings were held just down the hall. The public spaces designed for spontaneous collaboration were not used.

I didn’t want to move, but I was given until the end of the year to move. I began commuting each week, resulting in stress and anxiety. I found that others were in similar situations, in some cases, living away from their families. No one wanted to move, and as a result, as soon as another job opportunity became available that didn’t require relocating, they took it.

This was the case for me as well. After three months of commuting, I was offered a position at a different company. This company also wanted me to move, and offered me the choice of four hub locations where I would work in the same office with other people in the same organization. I asked them if instead of moving to one of these other cities, if I could remain where I lived, and work in the local office. Because they needed my experience and expertise, they agreed. And later, when I asked permission to work from home, I once again received approval, albeit reluctant. The requirement to work in a hub location, or at least to work in a local office, was supposedly based on the benefits of working in close proximity to others. But in reality, it was based on a lack of trust, and the obsolete belief that workers should all be visible to the boss so that they would not slack off.

Nugget: Workers can be more productive if they are allowed to reside in a location in which they prefer to live, and if they are allowed to work from home. They will have higher morale, spend more time working, waste less time commuting, and avoid unnecessary distractions and interruptions at the office. The company that insisted that I move to a headquarters location eventually gave up on that idea, and that organization was disbanded.

Laptops down! — Once laptop computers became widely used, face-to-face meetings had to start with the order to “put you laptops down” during the meeting. I once attended an executive team meeting in which all the participants entered the meeting room, set up their laptops, and didn’t speak to each other before the meeting started. It occurred to me that if this was the case, they may as well have stayed home and met remotely.

Nugget: It’s important to figure out when to meet in person and how to best take advantage of doing so. When planning and hold meetings, both in-person and virtual, you have to overcome short attention spans, readily available distractions, and the widespread compulsion/addiction to regularly check email and social media. Avoid the same old boring presentations and discussions, and come up with more stimulating and dynamic methods and topics.

Sorry I missed you! — When traveling, people don’t always take advantage of the opportunity to meet colleagues who will be in the same place. They miss out on the chance to establish and strengthen relationships, inform and learn from each other, and make progress of initiatives of mutual interest. Later on, when they become aware that they failed to do so, they may both lament the missed opportunity.

Nugget: When planning to travel to another location, use LinkedIn to alert your colleagues in that location that you will be there and would be open to meeting with them. Search people by location, and then send a LinkedIn message all whom you would like to see. Or post on a social media platform or ESN informing about your travel plans. This may result in people replying that they would like to connect while you are there. This is an example of working out loud. If anyone replies to show interest, take them up on it and schedule a time to get together.

9. Hot potato — hire people who actually like sharing, call knowledge management “KM,” keep KM small and close to the business

Meet the new boss — KM typically struggles to find a home in organizations, and is often moved around and added to groups which don’t understand or appreciate it. In my career, I frequently was put under a different organization or a new leader. Many posts in KM communities have asked “Where does KM belong?” Nugget: Don’t put KM under IT, HR, or some other stovepipe. If there is no independent Chief Knowledge Officer who reports to the CEO, then some neutral organization such as Operations is the best place. A virtual team made up of KM champions from each key organization is a good way to balance a central team with distributed representation. See Knowledge Management Implementation Plan and KM Program Governance for details.

Village idiots and weary road warriors — Knowledge management teams are not always staffed with the best and the brightest, or even with people who actually care about KM. In some cases, people who happen to be available because they are not otherwise in demand are provided. In others, people who should not be employed are transferred to KM teams to avoid dealing with the unpleasant tasks of counseling them out or firing them. In the case of professional services firms, workers who have had to travel constantly and live out of suitcase find joining the KM team is a convenient way to come off the road and stay at home. If the members of the KM team do not have a passion for the field, and do not regularly practice it themselves, it’s unlikely they will make a big impact on getting others to do so. Nugget: hire people who actually like sharing knowledge, and whose passion for KM is infectious. Avoid people whose primary skill is availability.

KM is dead: long live <new buzzword>! — We frequently hear that KM is dead or on life support or that we shouldn’t call it knowledge management. Nugget: saying “KM is dying” is like saying “email is dying.” Some may be tired of it, and it may seem like yesterday’s news, but the need for KM, and the opportunity to respond to that need, are persistent, even as the supporting approaches and technologies evolve. I compiled 50 different names that people have suggested for KM, and there is nothing wrong with any of them, but we’re still calling it knowledge management. That’s the label that stuck. Spending a lot of time talking about what we should call it probably isn’t as helpful as worrying about how to do it better. For more on this, see Myth Number 3.

Our goal is to put ourselves out of a job — Another thing I hear frequently is that we should work ourselves out of a job. Knowledge management is everyone’s job. Therefore, we don’t really need knowledge management as a department. We don’t really need to be full-time knowledge managers. Our goal should be to not even need knowledge managers anymore. Nugget: what about Finance, HR, and Operations? Is it their goal to work themselves out of a job? Are we going to get rid of the Finance department because finance is all of our jobs?” It is everyone’s job to share, innovate, reuse, collaborate, and learn. For anything to actually get led in an effective way, there needs to be somebody leading it. To say that there will be no one leading knowledge management and everyone will just do it is naive. It’s not that you need a gigantic knowledge management team, but you always need at least one person who is worrying about this. It’s not everyone’s job to be the advocate for KM and to shepherd all of the people, processes, and technology that go into knowledge management work. We’re trying to ingrain knowledge-sharing into the work of everyone else, but not necessarily to eliminate the people trying to lead the effort. You don’t necessarily need a monolithic structure, but you need at least a small team to shepherd knowledge management.

10. Do good fences make good neighbors? — open/broad is better than closed/narrow, prevent redundancy, discuss globally and meet locally

Community tradeoffs — Should communities be open or closed, global or local, limited to senior people or not, open to both sales and technical people in the same community?

Nugget: There should be a clearly stated preference for open, global, and inclusive communities. The value of communities is largely due to the ability of everyone in the organization to benefit from participating in open and easily discoverable discussions. Try to have a smaller number of communities, each with a larger number of members. A single, large community for each important topic, used for collaborating across all organizations and geographies, is more effective than having lots of separate, small communities for each possible subset of the topic, location in the world, or participant role.

We need our own, this is different, we want to focus on a narrow niche — I frequently received requests such as, “Can I have a community for SAP?” to which I would reply, “We already have one. Why don’t you just use that community?” They then reply, “I need my own.” They don’t articulate very well why they do, but it’s generally some variation of “we need our own.” It could be for what they think is a valid reason. It could be “We need one just for this country that we’re in. I need a knowledge management community just for Portugal.” To which I would reply, “Is knowledge management that different in Portugal from how it is in some other country?” If they wanted to have conversations in Portuguese, that might be a valid reason, but if they simply want an English-language community just for people in Portugal, there are two problems: there aren’t going to be that many people in it, and they’re going to miss out on all the other knowledge management people who belong to the other KM community.

Nugget: Try to refocus their energy from starting their own new community into helping lead the existing one. In that case, the best advice is to say, “I’m glad that you’re excited to lead this new community. Will you be a co-leader of the existing one? We can really use your energy bringing in your colleagues from the organization you’re in.” For more on this, see Myth Number 10. Local chapters can work if they are focused on meeting in person. Don’t create separate online spaces for them, but encourage them to post about their local events in the larger community’s threaded discussion board or enterprise social network (ESN) group, adding tags that are unique for each local chapter. See 10 key points about local chapters for more.

In all open versus closed discussions, ask the question, “would there be any harm if more people interested in the topic were allowed to join the community?” Point out that having more people increases the likelihood of questions getting answered, useful information being shared, and the organization as a whole learning more about the topic. See Open the gates and tear down the walls; moving from “need to know” to “need to share” for more.

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Knowledge Management Author and Speaker, Founder of SIKM Leaders Community, Community Evangelist, Knowledge Manager https://sites.google.com/site/stangarfield/

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