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Tag: "learning organization"

100 Missed Learning Opportunities a Day: Trim the Fat from “Knowledge Management.”

fireflies-in-jar-smOn teams of all sizes many lessons are learned each day, some big, some small. An “I-wouldn’t-do-that-again” happens here, or a “who-knew-it-would-be-so-easy-if-done-that-way” happens there.

These little lessons are fleeting and likely often go unnoticed even by those experiencing them. Like fireflies, they flash and they’re gone. When and where another insight will flash next is anyone’s guess.

The Benefits of Shared Wisdom

Many of the the “whys” of capturing and sharing lessons learned are obvious:

  • Leverage the expertise of people across the organization
  • Facilitate and organize the innovation and organizational learning process
      Help solve huge problems
  • Manage intellectual capital that may otherwise sit (and stay) in key individuals

Think of the most useful tool or method you’ve discovered for getting yourself organized. Now, realize that everyone else on your team has learned something similar, or better, or even synergistic making the value of your combined ideas a huge intellectual asset for the entire organization.

If teams could get to the point where identifying and sharing these bits of value became second nature, and it could be done at little or no cost, wouldn’t it be worth a try?

You know when you find it
In your darkest hour, you strike gold
A thought clicks, not the be-all end-all
Just another lesson learned…
— Alice in Chains, “Lesson Learned”

Why Capturing and Sharing Seems so Hard (And How to Overcome The Barriers)

Over the years I’ve been to many Project Retrospectives. Some resulted in useful information leveraged in future endeavors while others resulted in nothing but bellies full of pizza. So what makes some of our efforts stick and others not?


The way we think (or not think) about lessons learned often keeps us from identifying, sharing and leveraging them. To better understand how to get to the point where sharing ideas becomes natural, let’s look at some typical mindsets about knowledge sharing and what we can do to change them:

1. “I haven’t really learned anything here.”

Obstacle #1 in capturing and sharing a lesson learned is not seeing the lesson in the first place. If we wait for light bulbs to shine and sirens to wail, we’ll continue to hum along in our own worlds and keep all the good stuff to ourselves.

How can we start seeing the small stuff? Try this exercise. Keep a notepad next to you (dedicated to this task) for a couple days and take notes:

  • If you’ve been stuck and suddenly are making progress, think for a moment what got you rolling.
  • If you’ve had anxiety and suddenly feel relief, note what allowed for your change in state.
  • If you’re feeling particularly excited, motivated or happy about your work, note what it is you’re doing and think how you can bring that perspective to other areas of your work.

2. “My lessons learned aren’t new or unique.”

Individuals often neglect the unique perspective they bring to their work and therefore the inherent value in their particular learning process. The path down which we travel toward discovery can be as enlightening to others as the discovery itself.

  • Think about what you do outside of work that engages, excites, and motivates you (eg. fishing, tennis, video games). Now, think about how those activities influence the work you do. Write that down. Share it with someone.
  • Don’t censor. Write down all your lessons learned, your insights, your ideas. Others are likely to find value in more of those insights than you think.

3. “No one really cares about or has time for these.”

Most people enjoy learning and sharing what they know. But when teams assemble to do important work, people get busy. If a task isn’t considered critical to the activity at hand, that task is very unlikely to get any “CPU cycles” dedicated to it.

  • Get everyone on your team to do these exercises for three days. At the end of those three days, share the results with each other.
  • Do it again.
  • Then, work together to identify a means by which you can make this a part of your routine. Put it on the weekly meeting agenda, or make it part of your Daily Stand-Up Meeting.

4. “Why bother?”

We’ve all seen great initiatives kicked off with great intentions and high energy. However, without the right leadership, tools or motivation, the initial fire that burns strong and fast will soon fade to a hint of smoke that reminds us of its one time existence.

A vision for growth, development, and learning at an individual, team and organizational level is important, but it requires support and nurturing.

  • As leaders, encourage your teams to do these exercises. Take part in them as well. Repeat.
  • Share the results of these exercises with those around you, and ask other teams do the same.
  • Identify tools that may make this easier. They them. If a tool isn’t easy or can’t be incorporated into your routine, discard the tool and try another.

5. “I learned something, but at the result of screwing up. I’m not sharing this!”

Lessons learned are often born out of mistakes. It takes a very safe environment not only to share the lesson learned, but to bring to light a mistake large or small that may otherwise go unnoticed.

  • As a leader, create the safest environment possible. View mistakes as investments in education. Encourage the sharing.
  • As a team, aggressively identify obstacles. These obstacles are a safe context in which others can offer prior stumbles and associated lessons learned.

Making it Happen

Understanding this wisdom management as a two-step process can keep it simple for you to get off the starting block. The two steps are to Produce (identify and share) lessons learned and Consume (leverage) lessons learned.

In order to successfully Produce, there are two ingredients:

  1. Immediacy – Get in the habit of identifying lessons learned and make it easy to capture them as they happen.
  2. Motivation – Make it part of the routine and an expectation of each other.

In order for Consumption to occur, the two ingredients are:

  1. Visibility – Find a highly trafficked place online or off-line to collect the lessons learned.
  2. Relevancy – Group them, highlight them, revisit them regularly, identify where they have relevance to the work you’re doing today.

I hope this gives you a handful of ideas to get started on leveraging collective wisdom – ideas that don’t require an expensive knowledge management tool.

Photo Credit: Bryan Rosengrant

What practices do you employ on your team to identify and share lessons learned?