Next level leadership: how to deploy meta knowledge successfully

Rainier Beelen | september 2022

Next level leadership: how to use meta knowledge successfully

What are the important characteristics of good leaders? Leaders who go beyond managing individuals, but also bring groups and teams to great performance? We reviewed the latest literature on the subject and came up with three valuable aspects: meta knowledge, team reflexivity and diversity mindset. Concepts from science, but with a particularly important role in the practice of leaders.

Successfully operating teams

Most companies have a lot of valuable knowledge in house. But this knowledge is often very much spread out over all kinds of people and departments. In order to actually be able to do something with this collective knowledge, meta-knowledge is important. Meta-knowledge is knowledge about ‘who knows what’.

Who has served this customer before? Who has had this experience more often? Who would be best able to help me with this problem? When members of a group have meta knowledge about each other, they can quickly use information from each other. They can also then quickly link challenges in their daily practice to who they can talk to internally about them. Ultimately, this leads to more successfully operating teams.

Coordinating meta-knowledge

A major challenge that leaders then encounter is that people in teams often come and go. This makes coordinating meta-knowledge extra difficult. Roughly speaking, leaders can address this in two ways:

1. They make sure everyone has some idea of who has what knowledge. This is what most try to do in practice.
2. They designate just a few individuals to collect and distribute the meta-knowledge.

Pioneering research shows that designating fewer people often works best (Mell, et al., 2014). It turns out that the more meta-knowledge someone has, the more likely that person is to actually call others on their knowledge. If everyone has a small amount of meta-knowledge, no one feels responsible for prompting others to take action.

The effect of this second approach, where one person has a lot of meta-knowledge, is also called the “catalyst effect”: because this person asks questions of others, and does so publicly, the meta-knowledge of the rest grows automatically as well. A culture of information sharing is created and the leader is seen as someone for whom this is an important value.

Building a culture of information sharing

For leaders, this has important consequences. No one benefits from Polish country days and endless meetings, but leaders who think, “I already know the answer, so this is not an important meeting for me,” or “Let’s only invite people to this meeting who are affected by this problem here and now,” are also wrong.

Next level leaders need to realize that coordinating meta-knowledge and building such a culture is important to achieving business goals.

At Career Openers, we help leaders reflect on who they are now and what aspects they can develop to become the leaders of the future.

In the next blog, we explain how team reflexivity and diversity mindset contribute to good leadership.

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