How I Learned That Knowledge-Sharing Starts With Walking in Another’s Shoes

Sumejja Sljivic Ivojevic

Have you ever been in a position where you were supposed to plan something on behalf of the whole group of people whom you also needed to engage in that activity, but had difficulties figuring out the best way to do that? 

If yes, then you will perfectly understand my position. But, for those who wonder what is the story behind this question, allow me to provide some context. 

I recently became the Lead of the Quality Assurance Practice Group in my company, a role that is quite different from any other that I had so far. Practice Groups focus on internal education and standardization and one of the main group activities that we planned to carry out were knowledge sharing sessions. More specifically, we planned to organize regular meetings, so-called Watch & Learn sessions, where a member of the group would present a specific topic to the audience in typical lecture / presentation format.

Although I knew that all members of my group have a lot of experience and technical knowledge they could share with their peers, the plan of engaging them in a non-mandatory group activity like this soon proved to be no easy feat. Finding volunteers ready to present in front of others seemed intriguingly difficult. Despite the general consensus on the benefits of sharing things we learn, and proclaimed willingness to share knowledge when an opportunity presents itself, the pace of our activities was not as I expected it to be. I realized that my initial assumptions about how things are going to work out need to be revisited. I was obviously facing some new challenges and I first needed to grasp their underlying causes before finding a way to address them.

A simple (but not necessarily easy) change in attitude helped me a lot in this regard: I started with the premise that there is, actually, a good reason behind the silence when I ask for a volunteer. That turned out to be a much more constructive approach than a knee-jerk assumption that my peers are not interested or willing enough to step out and share their knowledge. I earnestly tried to put myself in their shoes and recall the way I was thinking about the non-mandatory tasks in my earlier position, where I was dealing with my regular client-facing engagements.

After this personal brainstorming, I identified a few potential barriers that could explain the silence in my group:

  • Concern that non-mandatory but time-consuming tasks for the PG can negatively affect one s performance on regular daily tasks.
  • Belief that the content for the presentation is expected to sound spectacular and impress the audience (and most teammates did not feel they had that kind of content to share).
  • Unwillingness to present alone before a group of subject matter experts due to lack of self-confidence and fear of judgment.

Having those main reasons listed down like this, I could think about potential solutions for each one of them.

No matter how odd it sounds, but I think that all this chaotic COVID-19 situation helped me to come up with an idea for my team. I actually saw many online group meetings recently in the form of panel discussions where people just exchanged their views and experience in a particular field. There didn t seem to be any “spectacularly sounding” content or flawless delivery, yet the audience was still provided with an opportunity to really learn a lot. Then I asked myself: is there anything this meeting format could possibly eliminate from the list of the barriers that I defined earlier?

Going through them one by one, I was surprised to realize that it could at least reduce the impact of each one of those barriers, if not even eliminate them altogether.

  • The fact that topics were mostly based on tips and tricks and useful hints about some things that people are already working on could neutralize the feeling that they re being away from their work, as the ideas and insights shared could help them perform better on their immediate tasks.
  • Unlike an individual presentation, a panel discussion with 3 or 4 panelists allows people to share the responsibility and burden of having to present a topic to the audience, leaving little room for individual feelings of failure or inadequacy.
  • Moreover, considering the fact that panel discussions can be framed around some common topics with an aim to shed some more light on them from different perspectives could dispel the notion that PG discussion topics needed to “sound spectacular”. These could be familiar topics, and discussions could simply help us understand them better and deeper.

Seeing a clear opportunity here, I decided to step out before my peers and present this idea. I suggested we hold a few panel discussions with topics that they could select from a prepared list, where they would all have a chance to participate in any of the discussions they wanted. 

Long story short – it actually worked! After a few successful panel discussions, I have to say that I am proud of my team and the way we started out with this new approach. We plan to proceed with knowledge sharing so that it does not become a big burden to anyone but still gives a lot of useful information to the audience. If and when we decide to move beyond this approach, all we have to do is remember to put ourselves in each other s shoes and see the new ideas and proposal from a different reference point. With that attitude, we ll already be engaged in some solid knowledge-sharing. 

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