In an earlier blog post (3.4 Company-Wide Learning), I wrote that “The ideal Catalyst is driven by curiosity and able to learn quickly.” I described how we work to foster an environment where everyone can advance on his/her personal learning curve.
From a company perspective, that means that we have to tackle a couple of challenges in multiple dimensions:
- Money: Buy / make available whatever is necessary (books, tutorials, online courses, etc.)
- People: Bring people in contact (“Know Them All” app, desk rotation, team events, etc.)
- Organization: Institutionalize teaching and learning (with coaches, compulsory classes, etc.).
- Meta-Structure: Collect and structure books, learning material and courses (Development Roadmaps, knowledge databases, FAQs, etc.)
- IT: Have IT systems in place that support coordination and collaboration (CORE, Virtual Standups, etc.)
The biggest problem, however, is time, having enough time to pause, reflect, and learn. There is simply too much interesting stuff to learn, to know, and to share. Everybody decides what he/she is interested in. Every team has to make sure that it has all the required skills on board. Similarly, the entire company has to cover all required skills (or develop them).
Having a great flow of information and communication doesn’t mean that everybody always has to know everything. That would be asking too much. In an environment of self-organizing teams, it should be enough that the right information is available quickly and easily, e.g. with help of Information Radiators and Osmotic Communication (as coined by Alistair Cockburn).
At Catalysts, we have strived to establish an environment where it feels natural for people to share everything they know. We regularly think about the following questions:
- Who has information that should be shared? (the who and what)
- How often do we expect information exchange to happen? (the frequency)
- When would be a good point in time to do so? (the date & time)
- Who should attend? (the target audience)
We try to come up with formats for information sharing that bring together the right people often enough.
Let me give you a couple of examples.
- General Meetings: all team members get important updates, typically within 15 minutes on Mondays before lunch time (see 7.1 Blending Online and Offline for details)
- Demo Evenings: team members demonstrate what they have been working on to all interested team members of Catalysts (including their partners, families, kids), and former team members, once per quarter in the evening on a weekday.
- Leaders Updates: team leaders convene and discuss what they have experienced recently, once per month on a weekday in the late afternoon.
- Tech Talks: technical experts talk about a technical topic, every 4-6 weeks, from 6 to 8 pm in a series of 2-3 talks (30 minutes each), all interested team members may attend, nobody has to.
- Catalysts Conference: all team members convene for half a day or a day for an internal conference, 2-4 times per year, with interesting and relevant topics presented by peers; all team members may attend, nobody has to. Often times, those conferences are scheduled before a team event (like Christmas Party or Summer Party).
- Book Reading Sessions: all people interested in a book convene once per week to discuss the next chapter that everybody has read during the week. Those sessions are weekly once they are kicked off, however not planned a priori.
Some formats don’t have the regular cadence:
- Wispri (shortcut for “Wissensspritze”, a newly coined German term): a team member holds a short talk or presentation about a relevant topic (short dose of valuable knowledge explained in a very practical way), whoever is interested may attend, nobody has to. Such Wispris are encouraged whenever someone has something relevant to share, but there is no prescribed schedule.
- Learning Lesson: a senior Catalyst conveys an important topic within 30-45 minutes (practice and theory combined), all new team members have to attend. Whenever we have a few new team members, we schedule a series of (around 10) learning lessons. Every new team member should be able to attend them during the first couple of weeks or months.
From time to time we invent new formats for information sharing. We keep them as long as we feel that there is enough demand. We discontinue them if interest wears off.
From my experience, it’s important to have a couple of different formats for information sharing. One size doesn’t fit all.