Given that the outcomes of the Knowledge Café are sometimes seen as “soft” by more hard-nosed, business focused managers, and by those working under time pressure, you may have difficulty convincing people of their value, and so it is essential to think carefully about how to get started.
I suggest you do not try to run a Knowledge Café with the sole purpose of convening some “interesting conversations.”
What you have in the Café is a powerful business tool, so when you see opportunities to use the Café for a real business purpose then seize the opportunity.
Offer the Café as a response to an issue – maybe don’t even call it a Café and do not try to “sell it” in a traditional way.
A Café should always have a strong business purpose.
If you are a manager, then you should not have too much of a problem as you have the authority and power to do new things, but even if you are lower down the organizational hierarchy and do not manage people, then it is still possible.
Some general points
First, some general points:
- Take the time to get to know the Café concept and process.
- Come along to a few of my public Cafés in London if possible. You need to experience the Café to appreciate it fully.
- Sign-up for one of my Knowledge Café masterclasses where I teach how to design and run Cafés, ask for my advice or invite me to design and run the first one for you.
- Don’t assume that all senior managers will not “get” the idea of the Café, many won’t, but some will take to the Café enthusiastically.
- One of the best ways to get people interested in the Café is not to try to sell the concept to them in an academic way but to get them to participate in and experience an actual Café.
- Find some accomplices, the more senior, the better. Talk to other people who you think will “get” the concept. Have conversations with them as to how you might get started.
- Take a look at the applications and stories chapters in this blook to see if anything catches your eye that you could run with.
- Start small. Experiment a little and learn as you go.
It’s important to think broadly and long-term about what you are trying to achieve. It is one thing to run a one-off Café; another to run a regular series of them and an entirely different thing to create a Café culture.
Make an impact
If you want to be taken seriously then run a one-off Café or a series of Cafés that will have an impact on the organization; that will engage people and make them sit up and ask “Why has no one thought of this before?”
You should always design a Café for a particular business purpose. Think about why you wish to use them and what you are looking to achieve for the business.
Start to run them yourself within your sphere of influence. If you manage people, you can run them for your team, however small.
If you don’t have permission to run them during working hours, then run them after work.
Find a speaker or speak yourself and run one. Or trigger it with a TED Talk video.
Or create a series of Cafés around a particular theme such as the impact of technology or culture or working out loud.
Significant issue Cafés
There are always significant issues or major events in large organizations such as:
- A significant new HR initiative.
- A merger or acquisition.
- The company may be expanding rapidly, or the company may be contracting and making layoffs.
- A major project may be in difficulties.
- There may be bad press about a customer service issue.
- A major transformation program may be going on.
- The CEO may be talking about certain things such as engagement or transparency. CEOs always have a hot topic at any point in time.
So figure out where the fires are; where things are intense; where things are important, reflect on them and think about how a Knowledge Café could help in these situations by gaining a better understanding of the issue; people’s different perspectives or breaking down silos.
If it is of help, obtain support from more senior management and capture the outcomes.
My personal favorite way to get started is to run a series of Future Cafés. It is low risk and can be highly engaging. Identify:
- Emerging technologies
- Social trends
- New or emerging regulations or standards
- The impact of changing demographics
Figure out the questions to ask in the context of your organization and then design and run Cafés around these topics.
If you can find good external speakers to trigger the conversations then so much the better – but often it is not necessary, and a good TED Talk video or another video will do.
An Idea Café is a conversational method used to solicit ideas on a particular issue, problem or opportunity for which you are looking for creative suggestions. It is an adaptation of the Knowledge Café and avoids many of the criticisms of the traditional brainstorm process.
An Engagement Café is a form of Knowledge Café designed to help people engage with an issue such as a new policy or procedure.
In a 2014 World Bank report it was found that out of about 1,500 reports produced in the years 2008 to 2012, 517 of them were never downloaded at all.
Knowledge is the capacity for effective action. There is no capacity for effective action in a report. An Engagement Café can transform a document’s content into actionable knowledge in people’s heads.
Reading Group Cafés
[Status: Work in progress. This is a key post that I plan to expand and refine.]
This page is part of an online book on Conversational Leadership that I am in the process of writing.
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