While we can thank Sir Francis Bacon for his contributions to the scientific revolution, we can also thank him for coining the phrase, “knowledge is power.” Fast forward some 500 years. This statement is the essence of knowledge sharing in the modern workplace. And knowledge sharing is the very essence of positive and inclusive work cultures.
When organizations make knowledge sharing a standard practice, they more easily retain institutional knowledge, reduce activation time for new employees, and tear down barriers to career progression for historically marginalized employees, among many other benefits.
This post goes into detail on what knowledge sharing looks like and how to make it a part of your work culture.
Too long? Skip to your favorite part!
What Is Knowledge Sharing?
Knowledge sharing is the transfer of knowledge within the organization using direct communication methods or an established knowledge sharing system. The information that is shared should be available to those who actively seek relevant knowledge in a way that would benefit the organization.
Knowledge sharing involves two types of information that are shared among team members: tacit knowledge and explicit knowledge.
- Tacit knowledge: Tacit knowledge is that which is derived from experience.
- Explicit knowledge: Explicit knowledge is the type of information that is available through documents and/or procedures.
Reversing the flow of knowledge? You bet! Reverse mentoring helps you ensure those high performers can share the knowledge upward so that institutional knowledge reaches everyone. Here’s a Mentoring Soundbites video that speaks exactly to how and why reverse mentoring works.
Both the sharer and the recipient of the knowledge can benefit from the exchange of information. Fostering organizational knowledge or sharing it amongst everyone in the organization is vital in making your workplace more agile and highly adaptable. It’s also critical to identifying and growing some of your most high-potential employees.
A definition doesn’t always easily translate into action. Let’s get into how you can make knowledge sharing a large part of your organization.
Organizational Value from Team Knowledge Sharing Culture
Companies thrive most when they recognize and capitalize on their competitive advantages. Those can be almost anything, and ultimately, what those are matters less than how effectively you sustain internal knowledge about how those advantages work.
That being the case, your company’s competitive advantages could easily fit into one of several broad categories:
- Unique product features or types
- Highly efficient processes
- Strong or cohesive company culture
- Better marketing or messaging
- A first-to-market product or service
After discovery comes innovation and refinement. Those most connected to that knowledge will be your most valued assets. They’ll also be the ones you want to turn to when you need to scale your approach with new hires or internal moves.
Using a knowledge sharing system facilitates the exchange of information. It maximizes your competitive advantage and improves its value within the organization. You can also use it as an employee development strategy when team members need to grow their skills and competencies.
Incorporating knowledge sharing strategies and creating a culture around them ultimately develops cohesion within your organization. They also ensure that everyone is on the same page, increasing productivity and employee engagement.
How Much Is Knowledge Sharing Worth?
The last section talked about organizational value from a qualitative sense. Let’s zero in on the quantitative importance of knowledge sharing with some hard dollars and cents.
A Panopto study found that how information flows through an organization is either helping to generate revenue or it’s costing money. It comes down to efficiencies.
At a high level, the study finds that:
- 81% of employees are frustrated by roadblocks to accessing information they need to get the job done
- Employees spend over 5 hours each week waiting for information needed to accomplish tasks
For a company with just 1,000 employees, this can result in $2.7 million lost due to productivity inefficiencies per year, or $2,700 per employee.
While large, Panopto’s numbers don’t also account for the increase in turnover that can occur when employees decide knowledge is a premium resource they just can’t access. Workers join a company to be successful and grow; if they can’t due to barriers in accessing critical knowledge for just the day-to-day, they’re far more likely to quit.
Tips to Promote Knowledge Sharing at Work
Start the process by determining which of the best knowledge sharing practices make sense for your business. Then, incorporate those practices in two ways:
- Drafting and creating repeatable processes for knowledge sharing
- Promoting those processes across your organization
If you want to encourage employees to retain and share company knowledge, here are some of the best practices to follow.
Build a standard knowledge sharing workflow
Building a standard workflow to exchange knowledge among other team members is vital in fostering a healthy business environment. The best way to make knowledge sharing a part of a company’s culture is to create important processes that support them.
If you don’t have knowledge sharing processes in place, you’ll probably be familiar with many of the complaints you hear from team members who are struggling to get work done. This will be especially true of new hires, who tend to have the least access to institutional knowledge. And if new hires haven’t been assigned a workplace buddy or onboarding mentor, they may not know who to ask for different pieces of information.
Create a standardization process for sharing knowledge. With the help of a knowledge sharing system and thorough documentation, you can help everyone (especially new hires) avoid confusion and foster knowledge transfer.
Clearly define roles for team members
The best way to succeed with sharing knowledge within your organization is to actively involve your team members. Make sure you assign distinctive roles and responsibilities for each team member so they are engaged in the knowledge management system.
An integral and targeted approach is vital in building the organizational culture of knowledge sharing and promoting relevant initiatives. You can assign roles based on your needs and the extent of knowledge and information that requires sharing. The best approach for this is to enlist the help of the human resource management team. Make sure to involve the remote workers too, if any.
Embed knowledge sharing into the company culture
Building a knowledge sharing culture in your organization is a long-term process. That said, take a top-down view of your organization and see if you can spot issues of knowledge hoarding. This practice commonly occurs in organizations where team members are pitted against each other.
A competitive spirit can be a positive attribute for a company, but only when that spirit is directed outward. When workers feel they are competing against each other, they’re far more likely to hoard knowledge. They mare share knowledge, but only on a case-by-case basis and only when it suits their interest.
Some might have another word for a company culture like this: toxic.
This topic is important enough for us to break it down into a few separate strategies. How do you change a culture from toxic (knowledge hoarder) to positive (knowledge sharing?)
Build and maintain a knowledge sharing plan
A fair amount of knowledge sharing within your organization will happen organically. Some workers are happy to share what they know, as they understand this makes the team better and more competitive. Others may share knowledge accidentally. In either case, having more visibility into how knowledge is shared can make that process streamlined and efficient for everyone.
Start by building a policy on the resources and formats you must use for creating, storing, and sharing knowledge. Then, hold meetings with stakeholders at every level so that everyone understands the process. Once institutional knowledge changes in any way, have processes in place for disseminating information quickly.
Knowledge sharing starts on day 1. Once you hire, you’re committed to train. Employee development starts on day 1. But are you developing employees in a way that builds value for you and them? Download our Employee Development ebook to pick up a few extra strategies.
For new hires, create and maintain an onboarding process that involves knowledge sharing at every step. Importantly, don’t just rely on written documents as your primary means of communicating information to new hires. Mentoring programs give them access to the individuals most connected to information that can help them overcome common informational roadblocks.
Also: Don’t forget to pay attention to your data! Create a way to track your knowledge sharing practices. Then, analyze that data against key metrics to see if you’re getting positive results.
Expand mentoring at your organization
Mentorship programs can help facilitate knowledge sharing by leveraging your best source of information (your people!). Mentorship makes it easier to encourage organizational learning and to build good working relationships between team members or cross-functionally.
Whether or not your mentoring programs work will depend on the quality of the matches. Mentor-mentee matching software both automates and significantly improves the matching by removing inefficiencies and biases in the matching process. With matching software, the end result is happier and more knowledge employees and significantly less turnover.
What does that look like, anyway? Book a demo and find out!
Build channels and tools for knowledge sharing
Facilitate knowledge sharing by providing your employees with tools and channels that make it easier to exchange information. Knowledge base tools and project management learning tools are just some examples.
Incentivize knowledge sharing
One common reason for knowledge hoarding is that your employees might be scared to be penalized if they share confidential documents or company knowledge erroneously. Put your employees’ minds at ease by incentivizing this act and educating them about the value of organizational learning through sharing of ideas and knowledge.
Create spaces for knowledge sharing to happen
Traditional office spaces can sometimes get in the way of building a culture of knowledge sharing. Enclosed cubicles and closed-off areas are a thing of the past in the modern workspace.
For many companies, the COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally changed the way we work. In fact, the number of Americans working remotely tripled as a result of the pandemic. It’s safe to say the traditional office is effectively dead.
- Rethink how you share knowledge at your organization
- Focus on purposeful and meaningful sharing
- Take into consideration how knowledge sharing works differently in remote and hybrid environments
If you do plan to continue having workers in the office, focus on an agile work environment that facilitates team collaboration and employee engagement. We did just that at MentorcliQ, with an office redesign that emphasized an open concept.
For fully-remote teams, you may to create virtual spaces where employees can share their knowledge. Alternatively, create formats where workers can come and share knowledge together, including open mentoring programs and Employee Resource Groups (ERGs).
Engage in knowledge sharing activities
Bring creativity to your knowledge sharing initiatives to make it easier for your employees to partake in your efforts. Knowledge sharing activities provide intrinsic motivation and fun opportunities to gain new knowledge or share ideas within your organization.
A few examples of knowledge sharing activities you may try include:
- ERGs (particularly important for groups that have been historically locked out of institutional knowledge pathways)
- Onboarding mentoring programs
- Open mentoring programs
- Workplace buddy systems
- Monthly social hours
- Online training events
- Private social media groups
You may have cringed at that last one. Note, however, that most large organizations already have private social media or messaging groups for workers. They’ve recognized that workers are going to create their own groups anyway. Providing them with the resources to launch and manage these spaces themselves is a sign of good faith and investment in their collaboration.
Invite experts to share their knowledge
Give the subject-matter experts on your team the platform to shine. Allow them to host or hold meetings where they get to show off the knowledge they have for the benefit of others. Alternatively, you may want to invite knowledge experts from the outside who can help share knowledge and boost the confidence and competence of your teams.
Experts are typically good at disseminating information to others. They’re also skilled at modeling best practices for using that information. Leverage their expertise to help you build out internal knowledge management systems, such as wikis. You may also want to channels for experts to provide training tools and documents that employees can access any time they need them.
Do I Need a Team Leader for Knowledge Sharing?
Team leaders may play an important role in your knowledge sharing initiatives. Employees with less tenure tend to follow the tone that’s set by their leaders. When a team leader emphasizes knowledge sharing, it more easily becomes the culture of that team.
This, of course, brings us back to a salient point about good and bad managers. A strong majority of workers (84%) blame managers for creating more stress. As noted earlier, a common stress point for workers is access to information or the lack thereof.
Train your managers in effective management techniques. As you work to make knowledge sharing part of the company culture, start by training managers to emphasize and exhibit this. As team leaders, they have far more power and influence to control the direction of the culture for their teams than individuals at the executive level.
Don’t treat knowledge sharing as a “you” problem
In a Chief Learning Officer guest post, Michael J. Daniel, principal consultant with Guild Education, makes a salient point: “It appears that our employees either missed the memo that they now own their own development — or they’re not thrilled with what it means.”
A learning culture, or knowledge sharing culture, or whatever you want to call it, isn’t a “set it and forget it” activity. While you can and should create a system that runs off of the power of autonomy, there still has to be support structures in place that ensure people are still supported in that journey. Not everyone knows how to be independent knowledge sharers or how to take the reigns of their own learning and development.
If there’s one thing my years of experience in the classroom taught me, it’s that learners will be at all levels of experience in self-education. The idea is that you sometimes have to teach people how to learn. In much the same way, you have to offer people structures that help them share knowledge when they don’t have experience operating in that type of autonomous learning environment.
It’s why Daniel used this rather poignant quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:
“It’s a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his bootstraps.”
Factors that impact knowledge sharing in teams
Knowledge sharing is dynamic. Whether or not it’s successful at your organization can be impacted by multiple factors, including:
- Communication Style
- Team Size
- Variety of Expertise
- Team Size
- Interpersonal Attitude
Do each of these check off positively at your organization? If not, think about ways you can get a better result along these angles.
For example, let’s say you have big dreams about making knowledge sharing a key part of your company’s culture, but there’s a distinct lack of trust between the knowledge holders and those who need that knowledge. You’d start by identifying why trust issues exist in the first place, then work to address them.
So it goes with the other factors. Identify where the problem exists among these areas (or other important areas you’ve identified), troubleshoot why it’s a problem, then create a solution that clears the way for better knowledge sharing.
That brings us to our final big point on this topic.
Barriers to Knowledge Sharing
Identifying the different factors that impact knowledge sharing in your organization is only the first step. Also, try to identify common barriers that limit your ability to share and retain knowledge within the organization. Those barriers may just be limitations in the factors listed in the above section. Or, there could be some deeper-rooted issues like those listed just below.
1. Resistance to change
Change can make some employees feel uncomfortable, which can lead to their reluctance to accept that change. When you are used to existing systems and processes, it can be difficult to adapt because you are comfortable with how things were.
This resistance to change is one of the most common barriers to knowledge sharing in the workplace. Seek out ways show your employees the amazing benefits of knowledge, both for themselves and for the entire organization. Focus on those benefits that directly impact those employees so they have an intrinsic motivation to adapt to this change.
2. Lack of engagement
Employee engagement is another critical factor to the success of knowledge sharing efforts, which can also serve as a barrier. The most common hurdle here is when the senior employees, or those with more expertise, are reluctant to share their knowledge with new employees.
Most of the reluctance stems from their refusal to admit that they are subject matter experts or that they have enough expertise or knowledge to share. This issue may come down to what’s often called “imposter syndrome”. If those who are verifiably skilled from the observers’ point of view lack the confidence, they’re not likely to take on the task of being knowledge sharers or mentors.
Knowledge sharing: Engage! Mentoring solves many different employee engagement problems, including imposter syndrome. Watch this Mentoring Soundbites video to learn more.
You can boost employee engagement and encourage knowledge sharing with internal communication tools. Also, create a platform where you can spotlight employees that voluntarily share knowledge and time with other employees. This approach will give them added incentive to contribute because they will be recognized for doing so.
3. Job anxiety
This is one of the most prevalent barriers to knowledge sharing culture in the workplace. Earlier, we discussed competitive workplaces as being toxic environments that often prohibit knowledge sharing. Sometimes, that culture of competition is only a matter of internal perception.
If employees feel their team members are threats to their role, they may without knowledge, or fail to seek out knowledge at the risk of looking weak. Either way, knowledge isn’t exchanged and the overall effectiveness of the team suffers.
Again, you can overcome this barrier by giving your employees recognition for sharing. Let them know that they are a valued member of the organization and that sharing their knowledge will further secure their position, not threaten it. This is an especially valuable approach for tacit knowledge since only that particular employee will be able to share a particular knowledge with other employees.
Build Your Pool of Knowledge Sharers
The collective knowledge of your entire organization and its team members is among your company’s most valuable assets. This knowledge enhances the capacities of your employees to perform their respective tasks. It empowers your individual employees and ensures efficiency in your business operations.
Let’s be real, though. If you don’t have an active pool of individuals willing and ready to share knowledge, you’re going to have a rough road trying to build a culture of knowledge sharing.
Focus on identifying high performers, as they’ll be future leaders and knowledge sharers. Use mentoring programs to train them in how to lead and how to adopt a knowledge sharing culture. Then, set them free as mentors for new hires. Done well, and you can watch the magic happen as the culture starts to take on a life of its own.
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