A few years ago the Norwegian oil company Statoil developed an interesting way of using the Knowledge Café in their management training.
I feel it is such a powerful application of the Café that I will explain the process here.
The example they shared with me a the time was how they had used the Café to help a group of young managers to understand better the issues involved in terminating an employee.
I don’t recall the precise procedure they adopted, but today, if I were designing such as a Café myself, it would work something like this.
The room is set up Café style. The young managers sit with a smaller number of more experienced managers at small tables in groups of three or four. As with any Café, this works best for between 12 and 24 people.
The speaker is a more experienced manager. She tells the story of when she was a younger manager and was faced with the difficult decision as to whether to fire an employee.
She completes the story and then without telling the group her decision she asks them whether they think she should have fired the employee or not.
The group then goes into Café mode to discuss the question.
What is interesting about this set-up is that we have a group of inexperienced managers but we also have a small number of more senior experienced managers in the room and when they move tables they make sure that there is not more than one senior manager at any one table.
After the small group conversations, the group comes back as a whole group and forms the Café circle, and the conversation continues.
Next follows a round robin where each person expresses their opinion as to whether they would have fired the employee or taken alternative action.
Finally, the speaker reveals what she did at the time and why she made that decision and also expresses an opinion as to whether given the experience she has today she would still decide the same.
In this way, the whole topic comes to life, and there is tremendous engagement and learning in the room.
Clearly, when considering to fire or discipline someone there are HR procedures that need to be adhered to, and so it still makes sense for somebody from HR to do a short more traditional presentation to explain these procedures.
This is straightforward as it is relatively black-and-white and can be done as a separate session, ideally before the Café.
But the decision to fire somebody or to discipline them or to take alternative action is not black-and-white – it is a complex value-laden decision, and this is where the value of the conversation comes in and the importance of exploring the different perspectives of the managers in the room.
This is a specific story, but the principles can easily be applied to many other training situations.
Questions for reflection
- Where and how do you think you could adapt the Knowledge Café in your work to make a conventional training session or presentation more conversational and thus more engaging?
[Status: work in progress]
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