How we increased our productivity, reduced the time we need to up-skill and improved our team culture with a simple, accessible approach to knowledge-sharing.
For many years at Wilson Fletcher we have been using share sessions — we somehow ended up calling them ‘Smunches’ (for Smart Lunch) — to share knowledge internally.
Each Smunch is a short presentation, run over lunchtime, where anyone can pick up a topic he/she’s interested in and share it with the rest of the team. It’s completely voluntary, anyone who wants to can join, and no one is criticised if they have urgent things to do elsewhere.
We’ve always found them a good way to compress learning but when we moved to a four-day week, we realised they would play an even more important part in increasing our productivity and communication — and maintaining our unique culture.
Over the past couple of months, we have increased how often we run them and we can already see the impact it’s having on the whole team.
If you’re interested in implementing something similar in your organisation, here are a few things we’ve learned along the way.
‘Bring your lunch and get together to talk about…’ is what a calendar invite to a Smunch usually reads. First and foremost a convivial lunch, it’s part team gathering, part training, part skill-sharing, part brainstorming… the nature of the presentations varies a lot but they’re usually on one of four basic themes:
- (Post/Mid-) project sharing — in any team, it’s important to stay close to what everyone else is doing so we regularly use Smunches to get an update on what the team is working on, from key learnings to new methods that have been used.
- Event playback — when one of us has been to an event or conference, we play back a condensed version, focusing on the juicy highlights and best moments for those who didn’t attend.
- Skill sharing — whether it’s about a new tool or a research methodology — or even how to learn to make Bee’s Wrap — skill-sharing sessions leverage one person’s expertise to help everyone learn something new.
- Book summary — if you’re like us, you probably have a reading list as long as your arm. Book Smunches are basically someone reading the book for you then summarising the main talking points or things worth taking away.
There are many reasons for encouraging knowledge sharing, whether you are a team manager, a founder, an intern, a designer or anyone else in the team. Depending on your own role in the organisation you will almost certainly take away something different than your peers, but you will certainly get something out of each one.
1. They stimulate creativity
As external consultants, we’re always required to come up with new concepts and ideas for all sorts of organisations. Smunches expose our brains to regular stimuli and keep us up to date on the latest technologies, capabilities, behavioral trends or working methods.
Building a culture that encourages learning helps us think better, adapt faster and react more quickly to new challenges. It certainly reduces knowledge gaps, but more importantly, exposing a topic to the rest of the team allows for it to be explored from different perspectives. Inevitably, this results in new ideas, conversations and even sometimes new commercial opportunities.
2. They encourage more effective and consistent skill-building
By transforming a passive, individual behaviour into an active, collective one, it broadens what we each learn and reduces the time we need to assimilate knowledge. From my own experience, it also makes it more memorable.
Let’s say you want to share an event you’ve been to recently. Perhaps you’ve taken some notes or pictures. Great. But ultimately, in order to present it back, you will need to access your memory to remember the crUX of what you heard so that you can synthesise the information, make it your own and share it.
Depending on the theme of your presentation, you may even want to do some additional research, talk about it with a colleague beforehand, buy a book… all of which contribute to creating stronger connections in your brain and reinforcing your own understanding of the topic.
For the audience, they are assured of a distilled version that will focus on the most interesting parts for what they do, encouraging them to pay attention. They can also count on visual, audio or even kinesthetic cues (don’t ask). This all activates the all-important connections between neurons which eventually contribute to better memorisation.
3. They contribute to creating a happier team
The voluntary aspect of the Smunch is an important part of what makes it successful. It helps people to be empowered and develop self-esteem, confidence and a sense of belonging — which in turn makes happier individuals and by extension, a happier team.
Willingness is an under-recognised part of knowledge sharing which has been shown to be an important factor in knowledge sharing’s overall value.
…willingness creates a feeling of enjoyment in helping others. In the context of knowledge sharing, enjoyment in sharing what the individual has with the other gives some happiness and enjoyment to help the others to solve problems, make decisions and increase their work performance…
(From Theories of Knowledge Sharing Behavior in Business Strategy, by Norfadzilah Abdul Razak, Faizuniah Pangil, Md Lazim Md Zin, Noor Azlina Mohamed Yunus, Nini Hartini Asnawi)
It brings the team together and develops and reinforces the company’s culture — while developing the individual who offers to share. Given that not all roles involve a lot of presenting, it can help develop new skills you wouldn’t otherwise encounter as part of your role.
4. They provide opportunities for everyone to voice their opinion
A great aspect of a Smunch is that you don’t need a Nobel prize to be able to present. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
From a personal perspective, it’s less about what you talk about and more about how you talk about it. Working out the best way to get your message across, in a way that will resonate with the audience not only contributes to improving your own communication skills but also helps to develop your individual voice.
Allowing each presenter to decide how they run their Smunch allows them to develop their own identity within the company and feel they have a role to play in the broader development of the team. This contributes to more motivated, productive and interested individuals who will invest more energy — all of which is good for the organisation.
We’ve mentioned it before but it works for us because it’s completely voluntary. Sure, setting personal development targets and objectives can get more people to participate, but it won’t be as beneficial for the organisation and its employees in my view.
Make it inclusive
Creating an open and inclusive culture is essential to the success of a Smunch. If you’re interested in introducing your organisation to Smunches, make sure that no matter how you run them, you create a safe place where it’s ok to experiment, participate, and comment and, crucially, where everyone is encouraged to contribute in a supportive way.
Do it on your terms
If you’re using your presentation as a practice exercise, do it in the best conditions possible and don’t rush to present it. Take the time to work on it until you’re personally happy with the way it looks and you sound.
It may take some time for you to reach a satisfying outcome but this will allow you to explore different ways of doing it and build your own best practices — which will eventually help you get to better-crafted presentations faster when it matters.
Make it yours
It’s an opportunity for you to explore your voice and a format that works for you.
Use each as an opportunity to build confidence in your point of view and to find the best ways to deliver a message in your own way. Reusing someone else’s words won’t do you any good as you’re likely to sound unnatural and have less impact, so use language that you’d personally use every day.
Over time, this will help you to become comfortable mixing your own style with the context you’re in and needs of your audience.
Keep it short
People’s attention span is limited so the shorter the better.
Force yourself to cap your presentation to 30 minutes. That in itself is a useful process. You’ll probably need to spend more time distilling your story, deciding where to focus, and what you want the audience to take away, but they’ll end up enjoying it — and remembering it — more as a result.
Knowledge sharing like this is such an easy thing to put in place and it opens up a whole world of opportunities without requiring much investment. Our Smunches are not only really useful, but they’re good fun, both to do and listen to: I can’t over-stress how important the conditions set for knowledge sharing are in making it a success.
The benefits you will get from it personally will always depend on how much you put into it, but if you have the right environment, go for it. In my experience, it will help both you and the team around you and that combination makes the Smunch — or your own version of it — a really valuable tool for individual and company alike.
Julie Jouault is an experience design specialist at Wilson Fletcher, a business innovation consultancy that helps established companies design the strategies, services and experiences needed to succeed in the digital economy.