The Management of Knowledge

By nature, I am a worker bee, not a manager. Give me a specific task, I will do it. I’m happier doing a small project all by myself than taking on a large project and delegating pieces out. As a volunteer for a local non-profit organization, I've recent;y had “small” tracking projects challenging my patience. At the peak of the issue, five of us were gathered in my dining room. It was really a project for three of us, but it had sourly splintered off. Four of us were at the table while one, the Distributor of Knowledge, was self-ostracized against a wall. I play the Mediator at the table.

The oldest of us, the Master, has the most knowledge but has a hard time communicating it to the one charged with the responsibility of distributing knowledge beyond this room, the Distributor of Knowledge. We have all known this for a long time, and we’ve found workarounds, which is how we ultimately came to be five instead of three around the table.

As a back-up, we briefly had an Assistant Distributor of Knowledge that occasionally worked with the Master but who is not on site in the dining room. Yes, a sixth party, without a face at the table. However recently, without notice and in the middle of the project, the Assistant Distributor of Knowledge refused to talk to the Master. It was either a communication issue as the Master is sometimes difficult to understand, or it was a geographic issue since the Assistant Distributor of Knowledge couldn’t physically join us at the table.

I decided it was easier to bring in my Undying Assistant than to attempt breaking the silent treatment of the Assistant Distributor of Knowledge. In negotiation strategies, this is known as avoidance.

For a long time, my Undying Assistant accepted information from the Master and forwarded it in one of a couple workable conveyances to the Distributor of Knowledge. Then with no warning, the Distributor of Knowledge absolutely refused to accept information in one particular form – the only form the End User (a third party, nowhere near the table) would accept this critical information. Taking a collaborative approach, I negotiated for hours, and finally, the Distributor acquiesced and distributed the information in the appropriate format to the End User.

Shortly thereafter, I realized that while accepting that particular type of information seemed like a move in the right direction, the Distributor of Knowledge now rejected the first type of information and would only accept the second! We had words. Trust was broken. No amount of discussion could change the Distributor of Knowledge’s mind. We had fallen victim to a non-effective, aggressive conflict management strategy.

Desperate for a workaround, I called the fifth party to the table, Amicable Solution – a very friendly sort with no previous connection to the project, just a good working relationship with the Distributor of Knowledge on other projects. I assigned the Amicable Solution one task: to take information from me, the Master, and the Undying Assistant and pass it on to the Distributor of Knowledge in the format the Distributor was rejecting from my Undying Assistant.

All worked relatively well, but it was challenging as the Amicable Solution wasn’t dedicated solely to my project, so I frequently had to adjust the schedule to complete certain pieces of the project.

Exhaustion from managing this project clung to me like a dark, heavy shadow.

I felt I was approaching what I defined as critical mass. However, in talking with Bill about the definition of critical mass, he had a different interpretation of this two-word phrase. From a scientific, math-brained perspective, critical mass is having just the right amount of something to complete a task. I asked my son, 13-year-old Will, what he thought. He pulled it apart grammatically: Mass is the amount of matter in an object. Critical is important. That was slightly closer to my definition but still not right on.

The day after the dissection of the term critical mass, all hell broke loose. The Distributor of Knowledge refused to communicate with my Undying Assistant AND the Amicable Solution. I wasn’t about to approach the Distributor with the hope of a collaborative solution. Trust had been broken.

I was powerless. I was past putting the time in to find a peaceful resolution that would work for all parties. I considered calling in an Outside Mediator, but if the Outside Mediator brought us to a resolution, I had no confidence in the Distributor of Knowledge to uphold the resolution when the Outside Mediator walked out the door.

Truly, a clear definition of critical mass -- as I define it -- hit me:: a heavy, shitty, cumbersome, unmanageable mess – more akin to “critical condition” of a patient in the hospital than using minimum resources to complete a job. Maybe the term I was looking for was Maximum Capacity?

I let the Distributor of Knowledge sit twiddling his thumbs. I knew what had to be done. I recruited a replacement with more capability – a Distributor of Knowledge 2.0. I have not yet integrated 2.0 into the project but intend to this week. In addition to this change, I believe it’s time to ask the Master to step down. There’s a Master 2.0 that will be more efficient.

With fingers crossed, next week at this time, there will only be three of us working on this project – with all lines of communication completely open.

Have you negotiated situations like this? Fortunately (?) for me, this was with inanimate objects, with parts played as follows:

Undying Assistant – my computer Master – the old computer with tracking software Amicable Solution – my son Liam’s computer Assistant Distributor of Knowledge – my husband Bill’s printer/scanner Distributor of Knowledge – the &^#*% household printer/scanner Outside Mediator – someone with IT knowledge Distributor of Knowledge 2.0 – the new printer/scanner Master 2.0 – an on-line tracking website

As for the Distributor of Knowledge, I believe I have found a new home for my former colleague…