How to develop a knowledge-sharing culture

Knowledge is power, yet it's an often overlooked aspect of workplace growth. What can you do to promote a culture of information sharing within your organisation?

What is knowledge sharing?

What is knowledge sharing?

Knowledge is the lifeblood of a company. Having a shared understanding of an organisation's marketplace, processes and the skills and experience it can offer is essential for growth and productivity.

When knowledge is shared effectively, everyone benefits. Processes can be made faster and easier, employees learn from what's gone before, tasks don't need to be repeated unnecessarily and risk is reduced. For example, simply documenting previous projects can help with finding shortcuts and avoiding pitfalls when starting new ones.

On the flipside, not being able to access an organisation's store of knowledge can mean having to start from scratch – over and over again.

Organisational knowledge is often divided into two categories:

  • Explicit knowledge is contained in an organisation's documents – emails, messages, training videos, policies etc. Because it's documented, it's relatively easy to access and share.

  • Tacit knowledge is more subtle. It's the learnings contained in everyday experience, working practices and culture. Tacit knowledge is more difficult to define – and more difficult to share – but just as important as explicit knowledge. It's also the type of knowledge that people can take with them when they leave a company.

As no organisation has a single source or store of knowledge, it's partly down to individuals to share what they know. But this doesn't happen automatically – organisations need to create the right processes and environment for effective knowledge sharing.

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Why is information sharing important in the workplace?

Why is information sharing important in the workplace?

Effective knowledge sharing can have a huge positive impact both on employees and the way in which a business operates.

Streamlines processes

Inputting learning from past experience into processes can smooth out bumps in the road. Learning from past mistakes so you know what works and what doesn't makes ways of working more efficient and user-friendly.

Breaks down information silos

Teams can benefit from knowledge from across the organisation – not just the area they work in – and can see how learnings from different departments can be applied to their own. This can reduce duplication of effort and make cross-team collaboration much easier.

Boosts productivity

Less time and resources are wasted in hunting down information, allowing employees to put more time and effort into the project they're working on and get the job done. When McKinsey looked at workers in four sectors, it found that they spent nearly 20% of their week looking for information or coworkers who could help with tasks. That's a terrible waste of time.

Builds trust

Being open about information sharing can build trust between employees and between employees and leaders. Feeling safe to share information, and knowing that their knowledge is appreciated, can increase job satisfaction and employee engagement.

Saves money on training

Giving employees formal training is vital for career development. But often internal knowledge and skills can be shared more effectively peer to peer. This leans into what happens naturally – according to one study, 55% of workers turn to peers rather than bosses when they want to learn a new skill.

Empowers employees

Effective knowledge sharing equips employees with the information they need to do their jobs with confidence and to the best of their abilities.

Knowledge sharing vs knowledge hoarding

Knowledge sharing vs knowledge hoarding

Given that knowledge sharing makes life easier for everyone, it's easy to assume that everyone will do it. But this isn't always the case. Knowledge sharing doesn't necessarily come naturally.

In fact, according to a survey by Kahoot! 58% of employees say they're holding onto valuable knowledge that could benefit their coworkers.

People can hoard knowledge for a variety of reasons, not all of them deliberate.

  • Lack of time – dedicated time isn't set aside for knowledge sharing and employees feel they haven't got room in their schedules to do it.

  • Lack of process – there isn't an established way to document and pass on what you know.

  • Logistics – employees may be based in different countries with different time zones and speak different languages, all of which mitigate against knowledge sharing.

  • Insecurity – people may feel that if they share what they know, it will somehow undermine their own position.

  • Lack of trust – only 21% of US employees strongly agree that they trust their organisation's leadership. If people don't feel safe to share knowledge, or feel it will be used against them, they won't do it.

  • Siloed working – knowledge from one part of an organisation may benefit another, but people may be unaware that this is so. Or there might not be any channels through which people can work across silos.

  • Rivalry – teams or individuals may feel in competition with each other rather than working towards a common goal.

Ten ways to improve knowledge sharing in your organisation

Ten ways to improve knowledge sharing in your organisation

One of the most challenging things about knowledge sharing is that you can't force people to do it. But there are steps you can take to make it easier for employees to share and access information, including:

1. Identify barriers to information sharing

Managers are often aware when knowledge isn't being shared effectively. They'll hear the same questions being asked again and again, with increasing degrees of frustration. Once organisations know that knowledge hoarding is going on, they need to look at why it's happening. Is it because of unhealthy rivalry in the team? Or are there logistical reasons for knowledge not being shared? Identifying and addressing the causes will get the information flowing.

2. Have an information-sharing policy

Make knowledge sharing a formal aspiration for your business by putting a policy in place outlining why and how it should be done.

3. Build a knowledge-sharing platform or knowledge-sharing library

A key ingredient in creating a knowledge-sharing culture is providing different spaces in which it can be done. One of these is having a centralised document resource. This could be part of the organisation's intranet, or a dedicated communication channel. Make sure that everyone, including remote and hybrid workers, can access the knowledge library and that everyone understands how to use it.

4. Host a weekly learnings round-up

Not all knowledge can be easily documented. So it's important to make space for sharing and discussing what's been happening in the organisation and the learnings that can be gleaned from it. People can also share resources and information that they've found useful. Managers should lead by example, showing appreciation for contributions so that people feel encouraged and safe to share.

5. De-brief

Include a de-brief stage at the end of every project so that people can discuss what went well and what could have been done better. This should be non-judgmental and focused on making future improvements.

6. Encourage greater collaboration

Collaborative working is an ideal way to share knowledge by doing. Encourage collaboration by creating spaces for it. This can be done virtually using communication software or VR/AR, or onsite, in break-out spaces. And don't forget to make time in the day for the informal spaces in which knowledge sharing happens – the coffee machine or the social chat channel.

7. Keep remote workers in the loop

With the huge growth in remote and hybrid working, it's essential that people not working onsite are part of any knowledge-sharing initiatives. Make sure that they're part of any sharing and training sessions. And encourage them to share their own experiences and learnings.

8. Mentor new hires

Onboarding and early days with a company are ideal times to pass on knowledge informally. New hires can learn from their mentor's experience both in a practical way and in terms of organisational culture and values. Going forward, coaching can consolidate this, as well as helping people to advance their careers.

9. Ask outside experts to share their insights

Getting outsiders to share their expertise with staff is a great way to disseminate knowledge throughout an organisation. But don't forget to involve remote and hybrid workers too.

10. Lead by example – share failures as well as successes

Leaders need to demonstrate the behaviour they want to see by sharing their own knowledge and learning from projects they're involved with. And it's important to be transparent about things that haven't gone well so that employees can see these are learning opportunities.

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