Last week I had the pleasure of doing a webinar with Paul Drexler, account manager for global learning and development at Bechtel, the largest privately held construction and engineering company in the US. The topic was tribal knowledge.
We covered a variety of trends and also presented some of Brandon Hall Group’s research on Relationship Centered Learning. (This is incredibly important for driving business impact. Our research shows that RCL organizations drive revenue growth at a faster pace than non-RCL organizations.)
Anyway, back to my experience last week. The way we define tribal knowledge is this: informal knowledge within an organization or community that has specific context for that group. The problem with tribal knowledge is that it is very difficult to spread and capture that knowledge so it permeates throughout an organization, especially a large one like Bechtel.
This is a company that was founded in 1896. It built the Hoover Dam and the Hong Kong airport. Bechtel takes on immense projects that require a tremendous about of expertise. Because of the global and complex nature of its business, formal learning does not always meet the learning needs of field staff.
So Bechtel started introducing informal learning in 2009. Paul shared his “Boots on the Ground” project, which established a Community of Practice (CoP) to help safety professionals on different construction and engineering projects throughout the world informally share expertise and experiences more effectively. This included over 140 best practices, checklists, and over 10 mobile applications.
We also had a lot of data from our webinar participants (members, please view link here for access).
Our good friend Paul left us with 3 significant criteria for developing a successful CoP at your shop:
- Significant business need. Find the business driver for building a CoP and get an understanding of what it means to your company, i.e., better compliance, more revenues, reduction of errors, greater safety ratings, etc.
- An engaged partner. Within you organization, there are many managers who have real business needs and opportunities. Find the one that has a couple of quick win opportunities to prove the concept of your project.
- A sponsor. Ideally, this is someone with credibility within your organization and is part of the leadership team of the company or an important business division. A sponsor can help you understand the past and the politics of the organization you are working with. A great sponsor can also make sure your project has as much hands-on help as needed to get it off the ground.