In November 2015, I designed and ran a Knowledge Café for about 100 managers at Johnson & Johnson in Cork, Ireland.
I do not run Cafés for more than 24 people, 30 at the most but this was to be part of an all-day networking event of 100 managers. I could either not do it, or adapt the Café process to meet the need. I chose to do it.
It was part of a day-long event for a network community called Óige (an Irish word meaning youth) – managers who were in their early careers.
This was their mission statement:
We aim to connect capable, career driven and ambitious employees across compass Ireland to aid the development of improved knowledge sharing idea generation and cross compass networking opportunities.
And their aims:
- To improve connectivity
- To grow future leaders
- To develop talent
- To share knowledge
- To innovate
And they had four strategic pillars:
- Knowledge sharing
- Idea generation
- Talent and leadership
One potential solution stood out – to run four Knowledge Cafés, one for each of the strategic pillars. The process ran like this:
We decided to run four Cafés concurrently in the same room in 90 minutes.
The venue was a light and airy room on the 17th floor of Cork County Hall.
The Knowledge Café tables we chose were tall, pod-like tables, all in red at which people stood.
Each Café was held in one of the four corners of the room.
The four Cafés were labeled A, B, C, and D.
Each Café had five pod tables and each table catered for five people. Each table was labeled with its Café name (A, B, C or D) and its number (1, 2, 3, 4 or 5). People had been pre-assigned a Cafe’ and a table e.g. C3 that was printed on their badge.
This was a little bit of overkill as it would have been easier to just assign people to a Café and told them no more than five people per table.
So that meant 25 people per Café and thus 20 pod tables in total in the room. Hence 100 people, give or take a few.
Each Café had it’s own Café host (who had been briefed earlier as to their role) and a separate topic to discuss triggered by its own trigger question.
I had a projector, a lectern (not that I wanted it) and a lapel mike.
I was introduced by my host Rian McCarthy.
I spent a few minutes describing the Café background and rationale for which I used a few slides.
First, I explained the normal Café process and then how I was modifying it for the day.
- Each of the four Cafés was entirely separate.
- There would be four themes and four corresponding trigger questions, one for each Café. I would talk briefly about each theme and pose the questions before we started.
- There would be three rounds of small group conversation, 10 minutes each – usual Café style.
- Each Café would then form a circle in their corner or the room around their tables and have a whole group conversation for another 10 minutes or so.
- We would then come back together in the room, and each Café host would do a 4-minute report back on what was discussed in their Café. Report backs do not typically form part of Knowledge Café, but it was felt that they were needed here so that everyone got a feel for the conversations that had taken part in the Cafés in which they had not taken part and that 4 minutes from each host was not too heavy a burden.
- During their conversations, everyone should make a note of one actionable insight on a post-it note and at the end of the event post it on the wall close to their Café.
The Four Questions – one for each strategic pillar
- Café A. Knowledge Sharing: What are the barriers to Knowledge Sharing in J&J and how can we overcome them?
- Café B. Talent Development: What advice might you give to someone trying to advance their career in J&J?
- Café C. Idea Generation: Where do good ideas come from?
- Café D. Networking: Who should I be collaborating with more within J&J?
How did it go?
We asked David to join us in Cork, Ireland for the inaugural main event of a network and career development community that we have set up in Johnson & Johnson Ireland.
We were trying to understand what barriers existed in Knowledge Sharing within our organisation.
David’s expertise in knowledge management allowed us to run four concurrent Knowledge Cafés in a room with 100 people with great success!
The Knowledge Café was the highlight of the day. We got some very useful tangible actions from the Knowledge Café.
Although the concept of the Knowledge Café is straight-forward, we would not have executed it with such a high level of professionalism without David’s expertise.
Customer Development Team at Johnson & Johnson
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