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 five ways that you can increase knowledge sharing within your organization:
1. Design your office space to be conducive to conversation.
This is not something many consider when making efforts to increase knowledge sharing within an organization, but the impact of physical space should not be overlooked.
Think of fast food restaurants; they intend to move customers through their establishment as quickly as possible (hence the name fast food). Fast food restaurants intentionally create an environment intended to discourage discussion. Things like closely packed, uncomfortable seating and high dividers between spaces should act as a model of what NOT to do in your office space.
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, coworkers will be more likely to sit down and have a quick chat with coworkers in passing.
2. Encourage various forms of knowledge sharing.
Get ready, because it’s about to get hold-hands-around-the-campfire up in here. People have different gifts. Not everyone is an expert public speaker or professional round-table discusser, and not everyone feels confident sharing their written work, documents, graphs, tutorials, etc. with the entire company. While the end goal of your knowledge sharing initiative should be for everyone to feel comfortable spreading the wealth in a multitude of ways, allow people to begin where they are comfortable. Here are a few suggestion to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard:
- Set aside time for face-to-face collaboration. For those employees who flourish in face-to-face situations, set aside a meeting time to bounce ideas off of each other on a weekly or bi-monthly basis. Team members who already feel comfortable with this will have an opportunity to express their ideas, and team members who are a little shyer will get some great practice.
- Set aside time to share and contribute content. Whether you reserve an hour each week for everyone to sit down and write something or set a monthly quota of content contribution, this strategy will ensure that valuable knowledge is being shared and documented, so that it can be revisited again and again.
- Schedule off-site events and meetings. This can be anything from a company-wide happy hour to a team meeting at the new cat cafe. The point is to change up the scene. Sometimes all it takes is a refreshing new space to set the collaboration in motion.
Emphasize that every single team member has something valuable to share, and that can be accomplished in many different ways.
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 the knowledge sharing movement. For starters, 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. 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.
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. 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.
5. Find a knowledge sharing software that is right for your organization.
Last but not least, is selecting a knowledge sharing 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 sharing 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. For more tips on selecting a knowledge sharing solution, click here.
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 it’s way to maximizing the impact of every single team member’s valuable contributions. Good luck!
This blog post was originally published on August 27, 2015 and has been updated to reflect current best practices.