All Life Is Problem Solving

Joe Firestone’s Blog on Knowledge and Knowledge Management

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Creating High Performance Adaptive Teams Through KM: Part Two

August 12th, 2008 · 3 Comments


To foster openness in an adaptive team, try to create a culture where team members internalize the following norms, collectively known as the Sustainability Code, developed by Mark McElroy and I a few years ago for our CKIM Workshop. Here’s the code:

1. All knowledge used as a basis for individual and/or shared action by members in a collective – in the context of the collective – shall always be open to criticism, and no such knowledge shall ever be regarded by any member as true with certainty. This is the FALLIBILITY rule.

2. All organizational knowledge in the collective shall be accessible and transparent to all members, regardless of management roles or structures in place. No such knowledge shall be withheld from a member of the collective by any other member, except in cases where fulfilling fiduciary duties or the need to respect privacy entitlements are involved. This is the TRANSPARENCY rule.

3. All learning and innovation processes in the collective shall be accessible to, and inclusive of, all members, regardless of whatever separate and/or restricted management roles or structures may be in place. This is the INCLUSIVENESS rule.

4. All learning and innovation in the collective shall be rooted in the principle of fair critical comparison, such that prevailing or competing knowledge claims may always be criticized, tested and evaluated against one another in a fair and complete way. This rule shall apply to claims of what such tests themselves should consist of, and not just to the primary claims to which such tests may be applied. This is the FAIR COMPARISON rule.

5. All members of the collective shall employ their best efforts to seek, recognize, and formulate problems in existing knowledge through critical evaluation of the performance of that knowledge in action. This is the LOOKING FOR TROUBLE rule.

6. The actual or potential performance of knowledge in action shall be defined to include the social and environmental impacts of actions taken, and in particular the sustainability of such impacts. No such impacts shall arbitrarily be externalized or otherwise excluded from the scope of evaluations performed under rules number 4 and 5 above, and all such impacts determined to be unsustainable shall be internally assessed accordingly, in related evaluations. This is the INTERNALIZATION rule.

7. Members of the collective may produce any new rule not otherwise specified by these rules, so long as it and the learning system used to produce it do not contravene these rules. This is the GROWTH OF KNOWLEDGE rule.

8. Rule numbers 1 through 7 shall apply to not only knowledge claims of fact, but also to knowledge claims of value as well. This is the FACT/VALUE rule.

9. The collective shall establish a Knowledge Management function that will be independent of the Executive Function and invested with enforceable authority to:

(1) allocate resources for enhancing all learning and innovation in the collective,

(2) change and enhance all knowledge processing rules,

(3) handle crises in knowledge processing, and

(4) negotiate for resources with other organizational functions.

10. The Knowledge Management function shall adopt and implement only knowledge processing policies that are aligned or synchronized with the self-organizing tendencies of people in organizations to produce and integrate knowledge as they will. This is the POLICY SYNCHRONIZATION rule.

11. Any member who fails to abide by these rules shall be subject to exclusion from the collective by its other members, at their discretion. This is the ENFORCEMENT rule.

We intended to apply the Sustainability Code to organizations, but I think there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be applied to teams, and other organizational sub-systems, as well.

The code incorporates within it a model of “rational” decision making (RDM) in innovation, which envisions posing and assessing alternative decision models through fair critical comparison. However, it would NOT be rational to apply this part of the Code to teams operating in situations where the decision time is severely restricted, and therefore measured consideration of alternatives isn’t practical, and yet innovation is still necessary. In particular, fair critical comparison may have to be severely restricted because of time constraints, and it may be necessary to operate in a way that emphasizes sequential trial and error more heavily. In situations like this, Recognition Primed Decision Making (RPD) should replace RDM in adaptive teams. I’ve explained the relationship of RDM and RPD here, and also explained (a) why there isn’t only one rational decision making pattern, and (b) why so-called RDM isn’t always rational.

Tags: Complexity · Epistemology/Ontology/Value Theory · KM Techniques · Knowledge Integration · Knowledge Making · Knowledge Management

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Steve Denning // Aug 20, 2008 at 12:59 am

    Hi Joe,
    These are interesting suggestions, but I do have one concern. One common feature of all the high-performance teams that I have come across have one feature in common: they are non-bureaucratic. The word “rules” is practically never mentioned. By contrast, having the same values is frequently mentioned. So I wonder whether these ideas might be put forward as shared values, rather than rules.

  • 2 Joe // Aug 23, 2008 at 12:10 am

    Hi Steve,

    Thanks for your comment. I think that the term “rule” doesn’t necessarily refer to bureaucratic rules and even pre-dates that usage. A rule is a standard of behavior that a group enforces. Here the groups involved are “teams.” And I think that teams can certainly have rules that they enforce on their members. However, if you’re uncomfortable with the notion of “rule,” then perhaps “norm” would be better. Both terms have the connotation of something that must be followed by members of the team and this was the connotation we wanted, “Value” is a more general term, in some definitions overlapping rules and norms when these are valued. But it has the more general connotation of aspects of reality that we think it would be good to maintain or to bring about. Value doesn’t necessarily connote something that must or should be followed. Years ago, Everett W. Hall, a philosopher at the University of North Carolina, wrote some books on value that, in my view, have never been surpassed. They are:
    WHAT IS VALUE? (1952), MODERN SCIENCE AND HUMAN VALUES (1956), and OUR KNOWLEDGE OF FACT AND VALUE (1961), the last of which was published posthumously. Hall was particularly good on distinguishing between values in general and the normative side of value.


  • 3 Knowledge Management and Conflict: Part One, Seeing Problems and Making Knowledge // Apr 29, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    […] and share the solutions, and therefore less innovation in teams and other collectives. In the sustainability code, there are two rules important for problem seeking that KM should seek to get accepted in any […]