While knowledge sharing is critical to organizational success, it does not always occur naturally. As a leader in your organization, you have a massive impact on your employees’ willingness to share valuable information with their peers. However, it’s not uncommon for some leaders to shy away from, or even discourage, a collaborative workplace environment. Even unintentionally, you may withhold company knowledge, fail to seek the opinions and ideas of your direct reports, or only ask for input on decisions that have already been made.
The good news? It doesn’t have to be this way. However, it is up to you and the rest of your leadership team to lead by example. Use these six tips to encourage leadership knowledge sharing and collaboration within your organization.
1. Promote Psychological Safety in Knowledge Sharing
Employees will not feel comfortable sharing knowledge and ideas if they fear that thinking outside the box, taking risks, and being different will cause them to be ridiculed or dismissed in your next team meeting. As a leader, it’s essential for you to create an environment where employees can openly share knowledge and ideas without negative consequences.
Developing this kind of environment—known as a culture of psychological safety—can have a positive impact on employee experience and team dynamics. In fact, in a two-year study of its employees, Google found that psychological safety was the most important dynamic for its most effective teams. When team members felt they could share their ideas without negative repercussions, they were more willing to take risks on innovative ideas, admit mistakes and move forward, and collaborate with their co-workers.
Your team is full of diverse perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences, so explicitly encourage unusual ways of thinking and reassure employees that they will not be punished for taking risks. Set an example by doing so yourself.
Use a knowledge engagement platform like Bloomfire to give employees a safe, centralized space to share ideas, ask questions, and comment on one another’s contributions. Encourage employees to share their learnings, including project retrospectives or ideas that emerged from a brainstorming session, so others can benefit from their knowledge. As a leader, you can help promote this behavior by posting in the knowledge engagement platform yourself. For instance, you might share a weekly or monthly video update.
2. Provide Constant Opportunities for Knowledge Sharing
Meetings are traditionally good opportunities for collaboration, but your team members are too smart, dynamic, and fast-paced to limit their knowledge sharing to only structured meetings. And if your teams are working remotely, too many meetings can lead to Zoom fatigue and a decrease in idea sharing.
There will, of course, always be situations where it’s valuable for people to meet in real time, whether in person or virtually. But meetings shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all for knowledge sharing. After all, if your employees’ only opportunity to collaborate and share their ideas is one hour each week in a sync meeting, valuable information will be forgotten, lost, and overlooked. To prevent these issues, make sure employees have multiple channels and opportunities—both in real time and asynchronously—to share what they know.
Use real-time chat platforms like Slack or Microsoft Teams to make it easy for team members to stay connected. If you have a knowledge engagement platform like Bloomfire that integrates with your chat platform, your team will also be able to search your company’s knowledge base and post existing knowledge assets in the chat platform. If your team has an easy and accessible way to share knowledge in real time, they are much more likely to do so.
3. Encourage Knowledge Sharing by Building Trust
Trust is one of the most critical prerequisites for knowledge sharing. When employees see that you trust them with information—and that you welcome their input with no judgment—they will be more likely to share knowledge with you and others. Establishing trust with your employees starts with open, transparent communication. Share your vision and clear objectives with your team, and convey that you trust your employees to carry those goals.
Of course, as a company leader, there may be things you cannot share, but it’s important that you communicate what you can and always tell the truth. A lack of open communication can breed suspicion. When employees feel like they’re not being told the truth, they begin to wonder what’s really going on—and may begin withholding knowledge and information themselves.
You also communicate trust through your actions. For example, if you assign certain tasks to the same people all the time, employees who aren’t given those opportunities will begin to feel powerless—as though they are not trusted to make an impact within the organization. This can lead to knowledge hoarding, resentment, and a toxic workplace environment.
By evenly distributing important tasks among your team members, they will gain a sense of personal responsibility. And responsibility and reliance help build autonomy and purpose. In fact, an employee’s belief about how much their supervisor relies on and trusts them has a direct impact on their willingness to share ideas.
When meeting with your team members about projects they are working on, focus on setting goals that align with desired business outcomes rather than getting bogged down in specific tactics. Give team members the creative freedom to propose their own strategies for reaching the goals. This will help them grow professionally, become more self-sufficient in their roles, and feel greater satisfaction about their involvement in the project.
4. Create a Space for Knowledge Sharing
There’s something to be said for feng shui. We’re not advocating for you to drop into lotus pose, start wearing yoga pants, and bring a jug of organic kombucha to work (unless you’re into that), but putting some thought into your team members’ work environments will go a long way to encourage knowledge sharing and collaboration. For instance, designing a flexible workspace with both quiet, heads-down work areas and collaborative breakout spaces—and setting employees up to successfully work from home or the office—will help encourage idea sharing while still ensuring employees can be productive.
Beyond a physical workspace that encourages conversation-based knowledge sharing, employees can benefit from a more structured way of documenting and sharing knowledge. Knowledge management software enables leaders and employees to contribute best practices, processes, training materials, tips, and more to a single platform, creating one trusted, centralized information repository. When you have a single source of truth, employees will always know where to go to find and share accurate, up-to-date information.
If your team is working in an office, think about how the layout might facilitate or hinder collaboration. Isolating desks within cubicles in a dark, fluorescent-lit office building is a sure-fire way to stop the free flow of conversation and ideas. Consider investing in large desks without dividers and spacing those desks evenly throughout the office, as opposed to shoved into corners and along walls. If you don’t have the budget to reorganize your office, even purchasing lamps that create warmer lighting or setting up “conversation stations” with couches or comfortable chairs will facilitate impromptu knowledge sharing.
If your team is working remotely, you aren’t responsible for setting up their workspace, but by offering them a home office budget, you can help them establish a work environment that is as conducive to productivity and remote collaboration as possible.
For teams of all types, look into a knowledge base or knowledge management platform. To encourage employee and leadership knowledge sharing, make sure your platform allows everyone to contribute to and access the same knowledge. It’s also helpful to ensure that your platform provides the ability to publish information in multiple formats (such as text, images, audio, and video), so employees can provide input in the way they prefer.
5. Lead by Example
You’ve probably heard the adage, “Do as I say, not as I do”—but that won’t get you far when it comes to encouraging knowledge sharing. Strong, effective leaders lead by example. Rather than simply telling employees what to do or how to do it, they demonstrate those behaviors themselves. By using this approach, you can prove the legitimacy of your vision and goals—and help people understand how to achieve those results. On the other hand, leaders who evangelize knowledge sharing but don’t show it through their actions may be seen as hypocritical.
Today’s employees want to see that your actions match the things you say. Leading by example proves that you are committed to your vision and goals and garners buy-in from your employees. Plus, many people learn more effectively by observing; they are better equipped to act if they see leaders demonstrating the desired action or behavior.
One way to demonstrate your commitment to leadership knowledge sharing and transparency is to share regular updates in your company’s knowledge management platform. Another way is to stay connected to direct reports through regularly scheduled one-on-ones and team meetings. You may also consider blocking off a certain time on your calendar every week for “office hours,” allowing team members to meet with you more informally to discuss ideas or questions.
While there may be routine items to check in on during your one-on-ones, give your direct reports opportunities to drive the agenda. If they present a problem during the meeting, encourage them to share their ideas for potential solutions. One Forbes contributor recommends adopting a “two solution” policy, where employees are asked to always have at least two possible solutions they can share when they bring a problem to management.
6. Recognize Individual Ideas
Lastly, leaders should look for opportunities to recognize team members when they openly share ideas and knowledge. This will demonstrate that your organization values a culture of knowledge sharing. And when leaders treat ideas as valuable, employees will be more likely to continue to share ideas freely.
There are many different ways to reward knowledge sharing. For instance, if you’re using a knowledge management platform that tracks user engagement, you could offer a prize or bonus to the top contributor every quarter. You could include shout-outs to employees who have shared innovative ideas in your weekly or quarterly all-hands meeting. Or, perhaps most importantly of all, you could give employees opportunities to execute on their ideas and take on new responsibilities when feasible.
The Power of Encouragement
As a leader in your company, the most powerful ways you can encourage knowledge sharing at work are to make your employees feel safe, comfortable, and trusted when providing their input and ideas—and to show through your own actions that you are committed to knowledge sharing.
Fostering collaboration and encouraging knowledge sharing in your organization allows day-to-day operations to run more efficiently, brilliant ideas to be shared more frequently, and productivity to increase. Your teams will also develop a sense of camaraderie and accountability as your employees inspire each other to work their hardest. As leaders in your company, follow these six best practices to ensure that knowledge flows freely.
This post was originally published in March 2018. It was most recently expanded and updated in November 2021.