Training, knowledge retention and the Telephone Game


Before I set out to write this blog, I decided to perform my own “telephone game” experiment to see just how bad knowledge transfer can be in the office. The game worked like this: I read a message to my podmate Kenny, who turned around and repeated it to Gloria, who passed it along to Andrea, who said it to Erik, who walked over and gave it to Ashlie, who said it out loud for me to write down. The original message was fairly short, just a 15-word quote from The Office:

The tea in Nepal is very hot, but the coffee in Peru is much hotter.

After five translations, Ashlie shared her understanding: “The day in Nepal was hot, but the coffee brew was much hotter.”

Close, right? If we’re being mathematical, Ashlie’s response was about 60% true to the original. And if we’re in school, she gets a D. But what happens when we adjust the message to be a little bit longer and rely a lot more on the final outcome? We tried it again with the exact same setup, just a new message:

There is a studio on the third floor. To get there, take a right out of the elevator, followed by an immediate right. Go down to the bathrooms and take a left at the water fountain. Then take your first right and the studio is the first door on the right.

How did Ashlie do this time? “There’s a studio on the third floor. Take the elevator down and take a right. Take a right, take a right and then you’re there.” She effectively shortened it by 50%, stripped out most of the detail, changed the meaning and sent me to a corner on the third floor.

We rely on secondhand knowledge for a lot of information around the office. I never read the manual for the new coffee machine; someone just showed me how to insert the pod and select the size I wanted. There was never a dress code fashioned around the office; we just adapted to what others were doing until a norm was created.

Some knowledge is great to share in this way. It’s fast, easy and usually good enough to get the job done. But for other situations, like logging vacation time correctly in the HR system or modifying customer database information, it’s critical to document the process with a single source of truth.

Organizations are learning the value of video- and demonstration-led training as a way to increase viewership and knowledge retention of their process documentation. One of the benefits of Lifesize Cloud Amplify is the ability to record anything you want, from weekly conferences and all-hands meetings right down to screen-captured training sessions that can be stored in your Lifesize Cloud video library and shared with everyone in your organization. It’s easy to record, quick to share and powerful for training your organization.

Now that I’ve reminded you about the telephone game, try conducting your own knowledge-retention experiment and let us know how it goes in the comments section below.

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