Whether you have an unorganized wealth of company information or a knowledge hoarding problem, many organizations fall flat when it comes to knowledge management strategies. When individuals struggle to access the information they need to perform their jobs to the best of their abilities, your company’s bottom line can suffer.
On one end of the spectrum, knowledge hoarding occurs when an individual possesses information that would benefit their team members, but they either refuses to share it or makes it difficult to access. While it may sound intentional or spiteful, it’s often not. Individuals simply tend to spend the majority of their time on their core responsibilities and, as a result, fail to find time to document their knowledge or transfer it to others. Unfortunately, this can be a massive detriment to growth and productivity for any organization, especially when those individuals decide to leave the organization to pursue other opportunities or retire.
Knowledge hoarding causes distrust amongst your team, kills collaboration efforts between other departments or remote teams, and costs your company valuable time and money. Worse, it can hinder employee innovation and agility, which ultimately diminishes a company’s competitive advantage.
On the other hand, constant knowledge sharing in the workplace brings seemingly endless benefits to organizations. An effective knowledge sharing system increases interaction in the workplace (even between remote teams), leads to a rise in creative problem solving, mitigates knowledge loss as employees retire or move on, and gives every department easy access to the information they need when they need it, which can speed up response times and improve the customer experience.
To learn how to improve knowledge sharing within your organization, you need a few key elements: a purpose-built knowledge base or similar platform, a company culture that prioritizes knowledge sharing, and a few key best practices for making that information accessible and convenient. Below, we explore knowledge sharing tools and tips that can benefit your organization’s processes.
What Are Factors That Can Help Facilitate Knowledge Sharing?
Too often, knowledge sharing gets overlooked simply because it’s not part of employees’ daily routines (often, because it’s not tied to company KPIs) or they aren’t sure how they will benefit from sharing knowledge. Understandably, team members often focus all of their efforts on completing their core responsibilities rather than spending time inputting information into a knowledge base. To encourage knowledge sharing on a day-to-day basis, management can use the following tips.
1. Create a knowledge sharing space and ensure psychological safety
Whether you and your team work from the same office, are fully remote, or have adopted a hybrid work model, it’s important to establish physical and virtual spaces that are conducive to workplace knowledge sharing. You’ll want to consider:
- Spaces for real-time collaboration: Enable employees to work in group settings to brainstorm, contribute to projects, or participate in other activities that require real-time collaboration. In a physical office, this might mean having designated meeting rooms that team members can book. In a remote or hybrid environment, this might involve implementing video conferencing software like Zoom, a real-time messaging platform like Slack or Microsoft Teams, or a virtual whiteboard solution like Miro.
- Spaces for asynchronous collaboration: Real-time collaboration isn’t always practical or the best option for certain activities, especially when team members work from different locations on different schedules. Giving employees tools for asynchronous collaboration ensures that people can work together and share knowledge even when their calendars don’t align. For example, team members might record a video of themselves giving a walkthrough of a project they’ve been working on or presenting on recent learnings at a conference and then share the video to a knowledge management platform so that their colleagues can watch it when they have time.
- Spaces for team building: Team-building activities help coworkers get to know one another on a human level, which strengthens trust and increases their sense of psychological safety so that they’ll be more comfortable sharing their knowledge. While many teams prefer to gather in the same physical place for team building activities, it’s also possible to translate these activities to a virtual environment. For example, teams might choose to start virtual meetings with an icebreaker question, make small talk with co-workers in a “watercooler” Slack channel, or share pictures of their pets or home office setups.
Of course, when team members can get together in the same office, it’s important to think about how the layout of the physical space influences collaboration and knowledge sharing in the workplace. Building a space that encourages collaboration doesn’t have to be a full-blown remodel. Here are a few examples of easy fixes to make your office space social-friendly:
- Coffee stations: Set up several coffee stations throughout the office, rather than just in the kitchens. Nothing has the power to bring folks together like coffee does, and having multiple coffee stations throughout the office will encourage people to speak to co-workers they may not usually interact with while they wait on their pour-over to brew.
- Conference rooms: Who says conference rooms have to consist of one large table that forces everyone to sit in a nice, neat rectangle? Of course, this arrangement is sometimes necessary, but if you have multiple conference rooms, try setting one or two up in a less formal way. Have several smaller tables with groups of chairs around them, and maybe some couches. Not every conference is a stuffy, round-table discussion, so provide a space that allows for something less formal.
- Casual seating in common spaces: How many times have you passed a co-worker in the hallway without so much as a “How’s it going?” By placing cafe tables and casual group seating in high-traffic common spaces, team members will be more likely to pause and have a quick chat with coworkers in passing.
Beyond physical spaces for collaboration, effective knowledge sharing in the workplace requires a culture of psychological safety. Nothing halts knowledge sharing faster than the fear of criticism, so make sure to encourage employees to share new ideas—like best practices they learned in a previous role or ways to improve current standard procedures—without fear. Don’t be afraid of new ideas; they are exactly what fosters innovation and collaboration.
2. Lead by example
If you are an executive or a team leader, the employees in the company will notice and model your actions and attitude. Provide positive reinforcement when employees share information that is beneficial to the organization, and actively share your own knowledge. For instance, if you have a centralized knowledge sharing platform, consider regularly publishing video updates or write-ups.
It’s also important to be transparent and make it clear why you’re creating a knowledge management framework and encouraging others to share what they know. Highlight examples of successful knowledge sharing and show employees the impact it has had on specific projects and business goals. If people understand how their work will contribute to a larger project, they will feel more valued and will be more motivated to offer creative and insightful solutions.
3. Incentivize knowledge sharing
What promotes knowledge sharing? Incentives. Rewarding employees for knowledge sharing is incredibly effective. There are many different ways to reward the team members who embody your company’s knowledge sharing culture. The incentives you offer should represent your unique company and culture, but some ideas might include:
- Public recognition:: Recognize and encourage employees by providing a shoutout in an email, post, or announcement highlighting a team member’s contribution to the company’s knowledge base. Specify exactly what the content was and tangible ways everyone will benefit from the contribution.
- Tangible prizes: Give small prizes like company swag or small gift cards to reward employees who demonstrate excellent collaboration skills. Consider giving a bonus to the employee who shares the most highly utilized piece of content every quarter or every year.
- Dedicated knowledge-sharing events: Host dedicated employee events for documenting and uploading content. Events can be both fun and functional—think: a catered lunch during which employees upload new or edit existing documents.
- Performance reviews: When employees understand that knowledge sharing is an expected part of their job—one they will be evaluated on—they will make it a priority. If you have a knowledge management platform, you might set an expectation that employees share and update certain documents or information regularly, or ask that they contribute or comment at least once a week. Aim to set key performance indicators that are specific, measurable, and achievable to all.
- Professional development: For some roles, sharing knowledge might be a path to promotion. In these cases, make sure to clearly spell out knowledge sharing expectations and incorporate them into performance reviews. When employees earn a promotion, make it clear how their knowledge sharing efforts played a role and how it impacted the company.
Whatever way you decide to promote knowledge sharing, using incentives is sure to kickstart some next-level collaboration and get the creative juices flowing.
4. Build a knowledge library
As knowledge sharing becomes a part of your company culture, it’s essential to preserve all that information so that current and future employees can benefit from it. First, make sure you have an internal knowledge base that is easily accessible to all employees, so they know exactly where to go to contribute and access information. Without a robust knowledge management platform—one that’s intuitive, searchable, and convenient—any process documentation and knowledge retention efforts will fall flat.
Then, focus on promoting knowledge sharing activities and processes that make it easy for employees to store documents and capture their subject matter expertise. For instance, you could develop simple templates for team members to document certain types of knowledge, or you could give them the option to capture their knowledge in the medium that makes the most sense to them, whether that’s through a video, slide deck, write-up, or other format.
What Are Knowledge Sharing Techniques?
Understanding a few effective knowledge sharing techniques will help you encourage knowledge sharing throughout your organization. The following techniques center around tools—like an internal knowledge base—and incorporate knowledge sharing processes that management can use to incorporate collaboration on a daily basis.
5. Identify and direct knowledge sharing energy
There are likely people in your organization who readily share what they know in a variety of ways—through emails, hallway conversations, messaging apps, and meetings. They aim to help others by documenting and sharing both explicit knowledge (in other words, information that’s easy to articulate and document) and tacit knowledge (expertise gained through experience that’s harder to document).
So, start by identifying those people. See who is already excited about documenting knowledge, and ask them to make suggestions about how and where this content should be shared. By getting them involved in your knowledge sharing initiative, they will feel more invested in its success and can help champion the effort throughout the organization.
6. Use and encourage the use of knowledge sharing tools
Do you often find yourself answering the same questions over and over again? Do you spend an inordinate amount of time searching through Dropbox or Google Docs for a piece of content? You can avoid these time-consuming issues by selecting and implementing a knowledge sharing tool, such as a knowledge base.
The right knowledge management software will allow employees to easily and quickly search for content, ask questions, locate experts, and store documents and videos. Knowledge sharing platforms also streamline the training and onboarding process and encourage everyone—from interns to CEOs—to contribute ideas.
Cloud-based knowledge sharing tools also allow team members to collaborate, share ideas, and stay aligned around the same information even when they’re not working in the same office.
7. Foster a knowledge sharing culture
Organizations that have the most success with regular knowledge sharing find a way to seamlessly integrate it into their culture. Specifically, aim to create a knowledge sharing culture that centers on transparency and accountability. This could involve providing regular updates and encouragement from your leadership team, incorporating knowledge sharing efforts into performance reviews, and rewarding employees who prioritize information sharing in the workplace.
When new and current employees see others in the organization—particularly those in leadership positions—using the platform on a regular basis, your knowledge sharing culture will strengthen and grow.
How Do You Overcome Knowledge Sharing Barriers?
Like any organizational initiative, sharing knowledge in the workplace comes with its own set of challenges. From technological barriers (e.g., your internal knowledge base isn’t convenient or easy to use) to communication barriers (e.g., employees don’t understand the best ways to share ideas or document processes), challenges can and will arise as you implement new knowledge sharing processes.
Fortunately, however, there are many ways to improve your knowledge sharing processes, so you can continue to share knowledge effectively and reap the many benefits of collaboration.
8. Make knowledge sharing as easy as possible
Not every employee knows how to—or is good at—recording or packaging information for others. That alone can discourage employees from readily sharing information.
So, aim to eliminate all potential barriers. For example, if an employee is hesitant or unskilled at documenting knowledge, consider asking someone else to help close the gap. This could include asking them to do an informational interview, summarize existing emails and documents, or even film a demonstration.
You can also simplify the process of gathering information by using a Q&A tool in your knowledge management platform. This allows employees to ask questions and subject matter experts to publish answers in response. As a result, SMEs only have to answer questions one time (rather than fielding many one-off requests), and all employees benefit from the information they have shared.
9. Revamp your training and onboarding methods
New hires often spend weeks, or even months, feeling too nervous to contribute their ideas in a group setting. This can cause you to miss out on the valuable skills and knowledge that they were hired for. Rather than let new hires’ knowledge slide under the radar, use the following suggestions to bolster your onboarding process, improve employee engagement, and encourage employees to contribute and collaborate from their very first day.
- Job shadowing: Choose another team member (who is not the new hire’s superior) that exemplifies knowledge sharing and collaboration and allow the new hire to shadow them for a day or two as they work. Observing a team member who is not afraid to voice their opinions will set the tone of a collaborative workspace and provide an example for how the new employee should contribute to the company’s knowledge base.
- Ask new hires for their input: Don’t assume employees don’t want to contribute just because they are new. Instead, actively seek out new hires’ opinions and knowledge, and involve them in the creation of learning resources. This will instill confidence in them and help them become more comfortable offering their opinions freely.
10. Partner new hires with existing employees
Connecting new hires with veteran employees can help facilitate collaboration and the development of a healthy knowledge culture. This doesn’t have to be a formal mentorship program; instead, think of it as a buddy system. The two team members should meet regularly to share knowledge management best practices, talk about any challenges, and come up with new knowledge sharing processes and strategies for success.
These informal team meetings can help ease the pressure on new hires, giving them a place to ask questions, clarify processes, and learn best practices for knowledge sharing in the workplace. And, this helps prevent knowledge hoarding, as it encourages experienced employees to share their expertise and train new hires in their footsteps.
Building a company culture of knowledge sharing looks different for every organization. By using these strategies as a launch pad, your organization can quickly move toward maximizing the impact of every team member’s expertise, knowledge, and experience—and preserving that information for every new employee that walks through your doors. For more insight into how a knowledge management platform can make your business more resilient for years to come, download our eBook, “Future-Proof Your Business With Knowledge Management.”