Whether you have an unorganized heap of knowledge or a knowledge hoarding problem, many organizations fall flat when it comes to knowledge management. When individuals struggle to access information they need to perform their jobs to the best of their abilities, your company’s bottom line suffers.
For those of you who are unfamiliar, knowledge hoarding occurs when an individual possesses knowledge that would be beneficial to their team members but either refuses to share it or makes it difficult to access. While it sounds spiteful, it’s actually more common than you might think, and it is a massive detriment to productivity for any organization experiencing it. Knowledge hoarding causes distrust amongst your team, kills any efforts being made to increase collaboration, and costs your company valuable time and money.
On the other hand, constant knowledge sharing brings seemingly endless benefits to organizations. Knowledge sharing increases social interaction in the workplace, leads to a rise in creative problem solving, preserves pre-existing knowledge so it is not lost as employees retire or move on, and enables every department to access the information they need, when they need it, therefore speeding up response times.
Sounds pretty good, right? Here are eight ways that you can increase knowledge sharing within your organization:
1. Create a knowledge sharing space
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 knowledge sharing. You’ll want to consider:
- Spaces for real-time collaboration: Employees should be enabled to work together on projects, brainstorm together, and engage in other activities that require real-time collaboration. In an office, this might mean having designated meeting rooms that team members can book. In a remote or hybrid environment, this might involve videoconferencing software like Zoom, a real-time chat 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 are working from different locations and on different schedules. Giving employees tools for asynchronous collaboration ensures that people can continue working together and sharing knowledge even when their calendars don’t align. For example, team members might record a video of themselves giving project updates 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 place for team building activities (when it is safe to do so), 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.
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, and not 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 at a glacial pace.
- Conference rooms: Who says conference rooms have to consist of one large table that demands everyone sit in a nice, neat, rectangle? Of course, this setup 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 goin’?” By placing cafe tables and casual group seating in high-traffic common spaces, team members will be more likely to sit down and have a quick chat with coworkers in passing.
2. Lead by example
If you are an executive or a team or department leader, your actions and attitude will be noticed and modeled by many. Use a lot of positive reinforcement when employees share information that is beneficial to the organization, and be open in terms of sharing your own knowledge. For instance, if you have a centralized knowledge sharing platform, you might publish monthly video updates or write-ups.
It’s also important to be transparent and make it clear why you’re sharing your knowledge and encouraging others to do the same. 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 likely to offer creative and insightful solutions.
3. Incentivize knowledge sharing
Everyone loves being rewarded, and we are not above bribery. There are many different ways to reward team members who embody your company’s knowledge sharing culture. The incentives you offer should fit with your company culture, but some ideas might include:
- Recognition through shoutouts: Provide a shoutout in the form of an email, post, or announcement when you notice a team member contributing something valuable that will benefit the company. Specify exactly what the content was, and some tangible ways everyone will benefit from the contribution.
- Tangible prizes: Give small prizes like t-shirts, water bottles, and other swag to team members who are demonstrating excellent collaboration skills. Consider giving a bonus to the employee who shares the most highly utilized piece of content every quarter, or every year.
- Performance reviews: If employees know that sharing their knowledge is an expected part of their job that they are being measured on, they will be more likely to share. If you have a knowledge management platform, you might set an expectation that employees share and update certain documents or information on a quarterly basis, or just ask that they contribute or comment at least once a week. The key performance indicators you set should be specific, measurable, and should feel reasonable and achievable to all.
- Professional development: For some roles, sharing knowledge might be a path to promotion. In these cases, knowledge sharing expectations should be clearly spelled out and baked into performance reviews. When employees earn a promotion, make it clear how the knowledge they shared played a role and how it has impacted the company.
Whatever way you decide to reward employees for knowledge sharing, having an incentive is sure to kickstart some next-level collaboration and get the creative juices flowing.
4. Make knowledge sharing as easy as possible
Encourage employees to share knowledge by eliminating potential barriers. Not everyone is good at writing or otherwise packaging information for others. In some cases, someone will have knowledge that is important enough that it makes the most sense for someone else to extract it from them. There are many ways to do this, including through an informational interview, summarizing existing emails and documents, or even filming a demonstration.
You might also use a Q&A tool in your knowledge management platform to allow subject matter experts to publish answers to questions that other employees have asked. This ensures that they only have to answer the question one time (rather than fielding many one-off requests), and all employees benefit from the information they have shared.
5. Revamp your training and onboarding methods
At first glance, training and onboarding and knowledge sharing seem unrelated. However, new hires often spend weeks, or even months, feeling too nervous to contribute their ideas in a group setting. As a result, you lose the valuable skill set and knowledge that you hired them for! Here are a few suggestions to get your new hires contributing and collaborating on the first day:
- Give each new hire a mentor: Cultivating a successful mentor/mentee relationship has a BIG positive impact new hires. To know that there is someone they can go to with their questions, free of judgement, is a major confidence-booster and empowers new hires to speak up when they’re not following.
- 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 that respects everyone’s opinion.
- Ask new hires for their input: A great way to make a person feel that their input is not valued is to never ask for it. Don’t assume they don’t want to contribute just because they are new! Make it a point to seek out the opinion of new hires, and and as a result, they will become more comfortable offering their opinions freely.
6. Identify and direct knowledge sharing energy
People share what they know in many ways–through emails, hallway conversations, messaging apps, and meetings. Identify people throughout the organization and department who are excited about documenting this 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 initiative throughout the organization.
7. Build a knowledge library
As knowledge sharing becomes a part of your company culture, it’s essential to preserve all that great shared knowledge so that current and future employees can benefit from it. Make it as easy as possible for employees to document their knowledge and subject matter expertise so that it becomes habit. 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.
You’ll also need a place to preserve all this shared knowledge and make it searchable, no matter what format it’s captured in. And that brings us to our final tip.
8. Encourage the use of knowledge sharing tools
Last but not least is selecting a knowledge management platform. Ever find yourself repeatedly answering the same question? Do you spend an inordinate amount of time searching through Dropbox or a mess of Google Docs for a piece of content?
The right knowledge management software will allow you to easily and quickly search for content, ask questions, locate experts, store documents and videos, streamline your training and onboarding process, and encourage everyone from interns to CEOs to contribute ideas. A cloud-based knowledge management platform also allows team members to collaborate, share ideas, and stay aligned around the same information even when they’re not working in the same office.
Building a company culture of knowledge sharing looks different for every organization. Use these tips as a launch pad, and your organization will be on its way to maximizing the impact of every single team member’s valuable contributions. Good luck!
Note: This blog post was originally published on August 27, 2015. It was expanded and updated with new information in October 2021.