Even though knowledge sharing is critical to organizational success, it does not occur naturally. The leaders of your organization have a massive impact on your employee’s willingness to share valuable information with their peers. It’s not uncommon for some leaders to move away from, or even discourage, a collaborative environment. This comes in many different forms, such as withholding company knowledge, never seeking the opinions and ideas of their direct reports, or only seeking input on decisions that have already been made.
The good news? It doesn’t have to be this way. However, it is up to your leadership team to lead by example. Many of you reading this are probably thinking, “that’s easier said than done.” This is why we’ve put together these six quick tips your leadership team can follow to help encourage 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 get them ridiculed and dismissed in your next team meeting. It’s essential for your leadership team to show that knowledge and ideas can be shared without negative consequences.
Developing a culture of psychological safety can have a significant 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 that 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
The word is out…meetings just don’t cut it anymore. Your employees are too smart, dynamic, and fast-paced to limit their knowledge sharing to structured meetings. And if your employees 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 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 across 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 acquired in real time, they are much more likely to do so.
3. Encourage Knowledge Sharing by Building Trust
When leadership assigns the same tasks to the same people all the time, employees who are not given influence in those domains 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 employees, they will gain a larger 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 an organic jug of 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.
If your team is working in an office, think about how the layout might be facilitating or hindering collaboration. Desks isolated within cubicles in a dark, fluorescent office building are 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 long walls. If you don’t have the budget to re-organize 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 won’t be 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.
5. Lead by Example
Leaders who evangelize knowledge sharing but lack transparency themselves can be seen as hypocritical. As previously mentioned in this article, one way to demonstrate transparency is to share regular updates in your company’s knowledge engagement 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 have good ideas and openly share 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 engagement 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.
Fostering collaboration and encouraging knowledge sharing in your organization allows for the day-to-day operations to run more efficiently, for brilliant ideas to be shared more frequently, and for productivity to increase.Your organization will also grow a sense of camaraderie and accountability as your employees inspire each other to work their hardest, all for the benefit of everyone involved. 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 expanded and updated in November 2020 to reflect best practices.