Knowledge Development Teams: an application methodology for the SECI model
1 June 2015
It was late morning, an office building in central Israel. A group of strangers worriedly gathered for a first work meeting of a Knowledge Development team. The mission specified in the invitation seemed to the participants vast and vague: developing new knowledge that will benefit the organization in a transverse field of work common to all summoned. Nobody said it explicitly, but their eyes told of their worries: how does one start? Do I really hold the knowledge that can be of benefit to this mission (am I meaningful)? Can we fulfill this mission?
Nine months later. Another late morning, same building yet this time the assembled are not an assortment of strangers. This is a team, a unit of close colleagues that have undergone a process and have developed a meaningful body of knowledge for the organization and themselves. They have all gathered in order to celebrate their achievement, to present the product they developed and which has already been validated to the organization's seniors and discuss the best way to make it accessible to the workers and assimilate it.
What happened on the way? What enabled the success? The answer is lies in work according to an innovative methodology that combines Nunka and Takauchi 1995's SECI model with dynamic models of relationship development in a team.
The SECI model is widely known and is internationally regarded as one of the fundamental theories of Knowledge Management. The model describes shifts and changes in the form of the knowledge in a manner that includes two scales: one scale deals with concealed knowledge and exposed knowledge while the other deals with personal knowledge and organizational/group knowledge (obviously, also vice versa). The model presents four stages that match four group missions in the process of knowledge Development: Socialization, Externalization, Combination and Internalization.
I wish to describe the relationship-development-in-groups journey the team went through, in the prism of the SECI model:
At this point in the team's lifecycle, There is a shift from concealed knowledge held exclusively by an individual to (still) concealed knowledge shared by the entire group. We are referring to knowledge the individual himself (or herself) does not know he he/she holds- he cannot describe it verbally, yet can narrate it as an experience or as feelings related to an experience. The team's initial work phase manifested as a missions of sharing personal stories: success stories and (when time is right) perhaps stories of shortcomings. The teammates still cannot define coherently what is the exposed knowledge, recommendation or work guideline that is implied from the stories, yet nevertheless after hearing the story and reacting to it (or relating to it in any way) the concealed knowledge becomes theirs as well.
This stage relates naturally to the creation stages of groups according to dynamic theories. The mission the team faces according to these theories is "to become a team" - to find a common denominator, to overcome the initial awkwardness. The stories and experiences are a highly appropriate tool to promote this goal since they enable both a personal introduction of each team member and marking common shared experiences that will eventually lead to a comprehension of the main topic the group will deal with in its meetings, around which the team will develop the required knowledge.
At this stage, another shift occurs: a shift from concealed knowledge held by the entire group to exposed knowledge held by it. By this we mean transcribing and processing the stories and experiences shared in previous meetings and structuring the concept at the root of these experiences. The knowledge is still not fully structured and processed, yet the team is working rationally in order to reveal these insights, recommendations and lessons from which the story was derived. The product at this point is not a story but formulated knowledge items that include a situation in which it is recommended to implement this knowledge, the body of recommendation, a description of the profit involved in its implementation and the possible losses from refraining from using it, etc.
This stage arrives together with progression of relationships in the team and a shift from dealing with the common denominator to dealing with distinction within the group. This stage is characterized by each member desiring to present his/her uniqueness and receive due respect. This occasionally leads to conflicts. The professional discussion and processing the experience enables each member to provide his/her unique voice and opinions. Channeling these energies to rational work enables presenting them in a context that is less threatening, since the discussions are professional (and not personal) and allow monitoring the content and recommendations.
In the SECI model this stage is described as a shift from exposed collective knowledge on an initial level to complex exposed knowledge. The groups work at this is characterized by processing and condensing the knowledge collected earlier, adding work tools that support and promote it (forms, templates, complementary knowledge items) and will even include some of these nuggets of exposed knowledge together. During the former stage several individual recommendations were created, at this stage the team can begin to deal with modeling the recommendations: merging multiple recommendations to a single professional subject (hereby known as a 'chapter') and understanding the relations between the different chapters. The product reached by the group at the end of this stage is a model of a detailed professional doctrine divided into different chapters and professional support tools.
In terms of dynamics, the mission the group is now facing is intimacy. The group is ready once more for closeness and harmony. Listening returns to the room and the group is able to understand itself deeper. The interpersonal interactions become deeper and more complex. There is an atmosphere that dictates that the teammates can talk about everything and use the accumulated knowledge. These terms enable deepening the knowledge, connecting the knowledge items and developing them.
If you thought that our mission was fulfilled with the knowledge becoming collective and exposed? Well, this is simply not the case. The SECI model reminds us of a full circle: the knowledge doesn't remain on the organizational (or group) level; it seeps back into each individual (specifically those in the group, but also additional workers in the large organization). Furthermore, it does not remain conscious, official written knowledge. Through the workers' interpretation while reading the report and using the knowledge, the latter becomes concealed again while assimilated in the workers' everyday conduct. Concerning the group, the mission is to bring the knowledge to the individual who did not participate in the group and by sharing the exposed knowledge reach its comprehension and internalization. We are actually referring to the task familiar to us in professional terms as effective assimilation or effective change management.
Also according to the group development theories this is the final stage in relationship development-the stage of separation. The group deals with finishing their shared work, saying farewell to the meetings and relationships. It is busy with evaluating its activity, reviewing its achievements and shortcomings. From this aspect, validation and presenting the group's products and understanding how these products will serve the organization in the future are most important. This way, the group's activity is valued and parting is slightly eased.
This article has presented a group work model for organizational knowledge development. It reviewed a way in which the SECI model's four knowledge shifts may be combined with the four stages of relationship development in groups. The conclusion is optimistic: knowledge of these models and tools may enable the professional instructor to optimize the knowledge development process; better yet, to maximize the group's products and adapt the mission to the required stages. Knowledge created in such a group is highly valuable to the organization, to the group members and other workers. It will be thorough and substantial and will enable improving work processes where they are required.