Culture Matters

A persistent theme of this blog is that when it comes to doing knowledge management right, culture matters. In fact, there are days when I’d argue that having the right organizational culture in place is as important (if not more important) than having the best technology. You can buy great tech tools, but if you have a culture that does not encourage knowledge sharing, those tools will never yield the results you intend.

Unfortunately, no matter how complicated choosing and implementing technology can be, shaping and cultivating organizational culture is harder. And few of us are trained to think about culture in any meaningful way, much less actually change it.
What’s the optimal culture for an organization focused on knowledge sharing? At a minimum, a culture that (i) promotes the collective over the individual — a strong sense of “the firm,” (ii) has either a flat hierarchy or bosses who are confident enough to allow their colleagues to participate fully in idea generation and implementation, (iii) grows out of a shared sense of enterprise or mission. If this seems impossible in the context of your law firm, take heart from Jordan Furlong’s post on the positive trend he sees in law firm culture. According to him, the focus on the individual hot shot lawyer has taken a huge toll on law firms (both culturally and economically) and there will be a swing back to a fuller sense of the collective, of the firm. Let’s hope he is right because when that happens, knowledge sharing should become much easier to realize.

4 thoughts on “Culture Matters

  1. Mary – I think you may be underestimating the amount of sharing among lawyers in the law firm.I bet your firm has a document management system. How many million documents are in that public repository?As your death by email post indicated, there is a lot of sharing going on. It is just by email so the product of that sharing is not captured by the organization (just by the individuals). I firmly believe that we can blame alot of the problem on the tools. Email is a big part of that problem. Now that you are blogging, how many of those emails would have been better handled by a blog post instead of a blast email?KM 1.0 with lawyers sharing documents by placing them in some big central repository to be categorized failed. That method required too much work; work that was outside their normal workflow.We need to change the tools of the workflow to better capture the sharing that happens in the firm. It is not a matter of finding a place to dump email. It is about better ways to communicate. Better communication should lead to better sharing.

  2. Doug:You’re right that there is a fair amount of sharing among lawyers through default mechanisms such as the document management system (DMS). If firm policy dictates that the DMS is where we must save our documents, then it will be a rich repository and will theoretically permit sharing. However, it is also limited in many firms by a lack of consistent organization and poor search functionality. While the deficient search engine can only be addressed technologically, I’d argue that in a firm that prizes a sharing culture, the lawyers would be more invested in helping to categorize or profile their documents.Ultimately, the right solution is to make the tasks of sharing part of the normal workflow, as you suggest. This should certainly reduce lawyer resistance to sharing. But once again, in a firm where there is no culture of sharing, expect lawyers to find other excuses not to share — even when the burden of sharing has been lightened significantly for them. It’s human/lawyer nature.Mary

  3. Mary -I agree that you need a culture of sharing. You also need the tools that make sharing easier.If it is hard to share or sharing does not provide anything that directly helps me, then I am not going to bother. Most people are willing to share we just have to make it easier to share and to provide rewards for sharing.I do not mean Starbucks cards. I mean providing positive feedback for sharing. I mean providing easy to use firm-wide systems that all the individual to save, organize and find information in a way that works for the individual.My blog is an example. I blog to capture things that I want to reuse later to capture ideas that are floating around in my head. The byproduct is that other people can find and leverage those blog posts. The blog is powerful tool for me, the individual, even though it is publicly accessible.I assume the same it true for you.

  4. Doug:The reality is that to do this correctly, we need the right culture AND the right tools AND the right processes. Having any one without the others won’t get the job done properly. So while I tend to focus more on culture and processes in this blog, it’s largely because there already are lots of good discussions in the blogosphere about the tools. However, my focus is not intended to contradict the reality described above. Rather, it is a small attempt to redress a perceived imbalance.Mary

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