Much of my professional career has been spent in organisations which could be termed as knowledge organisations. I have seen colleagues carry out complex projects and have been fortunate enough to participate in a few of them. One of my greatest learning in the context of Knowledge Management came from these projects. Time and again I noticed that project team members would reach out to their peers in the organisation (at times across geographies) to learn from their previous experience in solving the challenges that they were facing. It struck me that project members valued the opinion and feedback of peers more than the thought leadership articles and case studies that were shared with them by the Knowledge Management team. I wondered, why? Considering that the case studies and thought leadership articles often contained best practices and a checklist of dos and don’ts, why were project members so keen to solicit inputs and insights from their peers? I got the answer when I started working on projects myself. Peer feedback is critical as it is associated with two key ingredients: trust and respect between the knowledge seeker and giver. It is also valued as it is contextual to a specific technical/business challenge. It is a classic case of learning before doing.
While informal peer assists happen in most knowledge organisations, there is a formal technique in Knowledge Management to facilitate the process. It is aptly known as ‘Peer Assist’. The technique was put into use effectively by British Petroleum where it was used to gather knowledge before initiating a project.
Peer Assist is carried out in the form of facilitated work-sessions which can be held face to face or virtually. The session is conducted between peers representing a team that is facing a challenge and one that has been exposed to something similar in the past. What gets shared in the session could include good practices, lessons learned and insights on what went well and what didn’t along with the reasons. It is best done when the peers have had an opportunity to know each other and when it knowledge is shared in the form of stories (as human beings we tend to remember stories a lot better than bullet points shared via slides). Socialisation among peers is critical as it helps people to feel comfortable, open up and share their expertise which is hard-earned. Socialisation also helps in sharing failures which is more often than not kept within the immediate team.
The timing of the session is crucial. It is suggested that the session happens prior to the start of a project as it is often difficult to change tracks once the project is on its way.
There is some useful material available in the public domain to know more about the technique. I have provided a couple of reference points below.
• Collison, Chris and Parcell, Geoff. 2001. Learning to Fly. Milford: Capstone Publishing