Knowledge Sharing Sessions
If you’ve found this article then you are probably familiar with the term Brown Bag sessions (or one of the other creative names used for these types of meetings).
Typically these are small group, informal training and learning sessions where each session focuses on a particular topic with the aim to share knowledge and promote dialogue among participants. Sharing among participants can enhance training, help with consistent dissemination of information, promote teamwork, reinforce company values and missions, and increase employee morale.
I recently had the desire/need to setup regular Brown Bag style sessions as a vehicle to share knowledge within our development team. This was driven by two signals I was hearing over and over again during our sprints:
- I need knowledge: Team members had a lack of knowledge on something (technology, process, approach etc) when picking up a new task that would lead to mini mentoring sessions happening 1:1 during tasks
- I need to impart knowledge: Team members completing a task and saying that we need everyone to “get across” what I’ve done in this task (typically because they’ve setup a new approach, a different way of doing things, there’s a steep learning curve before someone else can work on it)
Thus the RampUp program was born within our development team.
The RampUp Program
The RampUp program is simply the name we gave to our knowledge sharing sessions.
The format of RampUp is to have regular (approx 1hr) sessions that are recorded, build up a library of videos and make it easier for new members joining the team in future, and for existing team members to refer back to.
First let’s talk about the different parts of the program that would be needed and then I’ll walk through how I went about setting it up.
These are the requirements for identifying the sessions (and session content) over time.
✔ Need a way for people to submit an idea for a session, either for:
- A session to learn more about a topic (I need knowledge)
- A session to present on a topic (I need to impart knowledge)
✔ Need a way for people to vote for which sessions they would like to see.
✔ Need a way for people to comment on a session idea to help shape the content of the session and ensure people get the most value from it.
✔ Need a way to schedule a session and get it into peoples calendars.
Session Presentation & Recording
✔ Need a way to be able to present the session where most of the team are remote (especially during COVID)
✔ A key part of these sessions would be to ensure there is plenty of time for questions so the session delivery mechanism needs to allow for interaction between all participants.
✔ Need to be able to record the session so that the knowledge becomes a reusable asset of the team.
Session Storage and Discoverability
✔ Ensuring the recordings are easily discoverable. The goal of recording the sessions is to build up a reference library of knowledge to refer back on, and also use to induct new members into the team and help them RampUp on particular topics.
Delivering RampUp as a Cohesive ‘System’
✔ Needs to bring the different aspects of Microsoft 365 into one place to act as the RampUp home that participants can easily navigate without having to hunt through different areas of Microsoft 365.
Implementing using Teams and Microsoft 365
Microsoft 365 had all the building blocks needed to plan, present, record and store the sessions. It was really just a case of combining them in a way that could be coherently delivered to the development team. Microsoft Teams is the perfect platform for doing exactly that. It allows us to bring together a group of people into a team for a common purpose. It also allows us to bring the tools the team needs to get the job done.
So let’s start by taking the existing Developers Team and adding a channel for the RampUp program.
Remove the Wiki tab as we won’t be using it and we need the space because we have some more relevant tabs we will be creating.
Create SharePoint List for Session Ideas
We are going to use a SharePoint list as a place for team members to suggest sessions (either that they would like someone else to present, or one that they are keen to present to others).
To create the list we will leave Teams and go over to the SharePoint site for the Developers team.
I created a list with the following columns and added the columns to the default view for the list.
- Session Title – (I renamed the existing Title column) this is the short title of the session
- Session Description – this is a long description (agenda) for the session
- Session Date – This is used to designate when the session is schedule for/presented
- Presenter – if a person want to present a session they should populate this when they create the list item, otherwise leave it blank until the session gets scheduled and a presenter is found/assigned
- Video Link – I use this column to paste a link to the video recording once the session has been delivered
To give team members the ability to rate sessions they would like to see we can use the built in rating capabilities in SharePoint (List Settings | Ratings)
Under List Settings | Advanced Settings ensure Comments are enabled. This will allow people to to leave comments such as things they’d like to see in a session or questions they’d like answered. It helps the presenter engage with people before the session.
At this stage we’ve got a nice list where people can start creating ideas for sessions, others can use the ratings column to vote for the sessions they would like to see.
We can even add some sorting and row styling to show sessions that have been scheduled/completed with a different row background colour and put them at the bottom of the list (I use the presence of a value in the Session Date column to drive this). This can be configured using Conditional View Formatting rules.
Then add a Conditional Formatting rule based on when the Session Date is after (Empty) then choose the styling you would like.
This will give you a nice visual indicator of those sessions that are done without having to write any code!
Add Session List to Teams Channel
We can add our Session Ideas list to the RampUp teams channel (Add tab | List | Select the Session Ideas List)
This now allows team members to quickly and easily view the sessions list, vote and create new sessions directly from Teams without having to go out to the SharePoint site.
Scheduling a Session
When it’s time to schedule a session, it’s simply a case of going to the RampUp channel and using the Meet | Schedule a Meeting option.
Just include the session title as the meeting title and copy/paste the session description into the meeting description. The team members will receive meeting invitations (and hence have the meeting in their calendar) and the meeting will appear in the channel.
Presenting and Recording a Session
When it comes time to present the meeting just make sure you use the built in capability of Teams to record the meeting. This will record all audio and whatever screen/slide deck is being presented.
The important thing to note is that by scheduling the meeting directly in the RampUp channel, the recordings will automatically get saved into the same folder within the Documents library of the Team site.
To be specific they get created within the a folder called Recordings within a Folder for the Channel within the Documents library for the Team.
After the recording has been created, you can rename the file to make it more meaningful if needed.
Adding Recorded Videos to Teams Channel
Wouldn’t it be great to add the recorded videos directly as a Teams tab (as we did with the Session Ideas). Due to the recorded videos being located in a subfolder structure (and I want to give nice thumbnails rather than boring file names) we aren’t going to try and show the files directly, rather we are going to create a SharePoint page that will allow us to style dynamically show just the files from the recordings subfolder and use SharePoint views to show nice thumbnail images.
You can do this by using the Document Library webpart and specifying the specific subfolder where the recordings live (and using the View selector you have control to setup the view as you would like – I’ve used thumbnails)
Now we have a SharePoint page hosting the our session videos it’s a simple matter of adding a tab to the Teams channel that shows this SharePoint page.
Bringing it Together as a Cohesive System
Creating SharePoint Page for the RampUp Program
To give our RampUp program a home we can create a page on the Developers team SharePoint site. The main things I added to this page were:
- Rich content to give readers context to the objective of the program and what’s it’s all about.
- A video talking about the program
- Use the List webpart to embed the Session Ideas list directly on this page
- Use the Document Library webpart to embed the latest video session recordings directly on this page
- Provide links off to the full session list and video recording library
Now we have a pretty cool homepage for our RampUp program on the SharePoint site.
Adding the RampUp Homepage as a Teams Channel Tab
We can also expose this landing page directly within Teams so everything is available no matter if you arrive via SharePoint or in Teams. We do this by adding a tab to the Teams channel linking to this SharePoint page (it’s the same process we used to expose the Session Recording SharePoint page as a tab)
Podcast Interview Discussing this Blog Post
In the weeks after publishing this blog post I had the pleasure of catching up with Daniel Anderson to record an episode of his regular podcast and discuss this knowledge sharing solution in more detail.