Exchanging Knowledge to Increase Trust and Mentorship

Twice a month, we gather as team to listen to one of our members present on a topic. These topics range from “HTTP” to “Requirements Gathering Best Practices” to “Software Development Methodologies.” We do not focusing on expert-level knowledge nor on measuring the effectiveness of the speaker. It is a safe place for us to discuss a topic that may or may not be related to our immediate field of work. These presentations serve two primary functions (and one tertiary):

The presenter may spend 4-8 hours preparing for the presentation. Preparation involves creating slides, tutorials, sample code, demos, etc. The presenter is not required to be an expert in the subject on which they are presenting. In fact, there may be someone else on the team who would be better suited to present on the particular topic; the goal is to increase everyone at every level, not just the few.

Since everyone takes a turn in the hot seat, each person on the team quickly learns how to facilitate a positive experience for the audience as well as the presenter. People presenting learn to rely on discussion and audience exploration the presentations spark to guide the session.

We present on subjects on which we may not have expertise, we make ourselves vulnerable to one another– this vulnerability is a critical state that can build immense trust between team members. Through these presentations we begin to break down a culture of “having to be right about everything”, and introduce a culture of connections and exploration.

The culture of trust and exploration bleeds into our project work. We invest the time with one another to demonstrate we are each thoughtful, continuous learners with respect for one another’s different styles and approaches to our work. Thus junior developers can present ideas (or kernels of ideas) and the team listens. The team may not implement said ideas, but they listen and because of the presentation experiences have a better handle on how to discuss (or redirect) ideas from one another. We also learn the best approaches to interact with one another in mission-critical discussions from the non-mission-critical “lunch and learns.”

The knowledge exchanges provide an opportunity to practice directing meetings and discussions, conflict resolution, managing tangents, and learning individual styles and temperaments in a real-world setting with low stakes where each person can feel comfortable and safe. The topics directly impact the work being done (even if seemingly unrelated), and the structure directly impacts our ability to work together as a cohesive team.

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