Knowledge is one of the most important assets a business has. It’s the key to productivity, innovation, and establishing best practices.
Organizations that create a culture emphasizing knowledge sharing don’t struggle with information silos or other negative impacts associated with the failure to freely share information across business areas.
Businesses that want to embrace knowledge sharing must make a dedicated effort to do so—it doesn’t just happen.
What is knowledge sharing?
Knowledge sharing is the process of spreading both formal and informal knowledge across an organization. Companies that embrace knowledge sharing have successfully accomplished two things:
- Creating a knowledge sharing culture that shares information instead of hoarding it
- Providing employees with a knowledge sharing system that facilitates the sharing of information
Knowledge sharing makes teams more agile and adaptable—something that’s an absolute necessity for a company’s growth and survival today.
The pandemic made it clear that organizations must be able to adapt quickly to change, even adjusting entire business models when circumstances demand it.
The best way to do that is to ensure that every team member can quickly gain or pass along new competencies. This means focusing on internal employee development, and not just learning through formal training programs.
That doesn’t mean that curated training and development initiatives aren’t important. They have their place.
However, workers often need to gain knowledge immediately, not when the next training session becomes available. This is where a knowledge management system is valuable.
Benefits of knowledge sharing
When companies embrace knowledge sharing as an important part of a learning and development strategy, they often experience the following benefits:
- Better collaboration and communication
- Ability to develop team leaders from within the organization
- Improved employee retention
- Increased employee engagement
- More resilience during a crisis
- Increased innovation and creativity
- Fewer expenditures and time spent on training
- Reduced gaps in skill sets
- Faster and better access to information
- Greater sense of purpose for team members
The point of better collaboration and communication is especially important. As remote workers become the norm, many organizations report that this has become a struggle.
How to implement knowledge sharing in the workplace
Knowledge sharing is clearly beneficial, but how do you make it happen? These tips discuss cultural barriers, implementing processes, and adopting a knowledge management system that works for your company.
Step #1: Building a culture of knowledge sharing
Unfortunately, many people are conditioned to believe three truths about the workplace:
- Knowledge is power, and that power is lost when it is shared with others
- Work is inherently competitive and holding onto information ensures a competitive edge
- Job security hinges on having knowledge and capabilities that other team members do not
These assumptions must be thoroughly broken down to facilitate knowledge sharing can happen in any meaningful way. That can be challenging because it goes against what so many employees have been conditioned to believe. However, it can be accomplished by taking these action steps.
Step #2: Communicate knowledge sharing as part of your company values
If knowledge sharing is going to be embraced across the organization, it must be adopted as an organizational value. That means making sure everybody understands that this is a top priority for all employees.
The company’s position on knowledge sharing should be embedded into the onboarding process. This includes educating new employees on the tools and methods already in place.
Step #3: Ensure team leaders model knowledge sharing
This is a top-down effort. If stakeholders aren’t showing their support for knowledge sharing tools and demonstrating it in their own actions, nobody else is going to follow suit.
Step #4: Embrace experimentation and change attitudes about failure
It isn’t enough for knowledge transfer to be passed from one person or one team to another. People must be able to experiment with the new information they acquire.
In order to be able to do that, failure must be seen as a natural, even positive, part of the process. Otherwise fear will prevent any growth from happening as the result of knowledge sharing.
Step #5: Make work enjoyable
The work environment you foster will directly impact whether employees are comfortable or motivated enough to share knowledge with one another.
If autonomy is limited, management styles are authoritarian, or the overall employee experience is poor, people won’t be motivated to open up and share their knowledge with others.
Step #6: Tear down information silos
To tear down information silos, you must overcome two challenges:
- Stop viewing information as a commodity that one person or group owns.
- Address the practicality of sharing knowledge.
If every team is using a unique set of tools for communicating, collaborating, and sharing information, it’s difficult for knowledge to be broadcast outside of that.
It’s important to centralize information by adopting a single, companywide tool or suite of tools for sharing, storing, and updating information. Examples of this include:
- A knowledge management system
- A modern learning management platform
Managing corporate knowledge sharing
Once knowledge sharing is embraced as a worthwhile activity and organizational value, it’s time for the next step, which focuses on making it as easy as possible for knowledge sharing to occur.
This includes the following actions:
1. Adopt multiple knowledge sharing methodologies
Since remote workers have diverse communication and learning styles, it’s important to adopt multiple methods for sharing and absorbing knowledge.
For example, social learners might do well with lunch and learn sessions where new information is shared via roundtable discussion. Others might prefer to have access to a knowledge base that they can update, or a departmental Q & A form that’s posted to the company intranet site.
Likewise, independent learners will probably prefer self-directed learning paths. At the same time, other workers will benefit more from engaging directly with the people who have information to share.
2. Create physical spaces to encourage collaboration
During the pandemic, many businesses moved away from shared spaces. That was for good reason, but it had an unanticipated side effect. When people work at a great physical distance from one another or are surrounded by tangible barriers such as cubicle walls, communication and collaboration dwindle.
Consider making these changes to create a physical space that is more conducive to sharing information:
- Create intimate spaces where pairs and small groups of employees can hold information-sharing sessions
- Add casual seating areas with access to office amenities like coffee machines for impromptu gatherings
- Give workers the choice of working in quiet, enclosed spaces or open areas
It’s important to keep the needs of remote workers in mind as well. Whatever tools are used for collaboration should be robust enough to include file sharing, video, and other forms of communication.
It’s also helpful if these platforms contain some means of allowing social engagement between team members. These connections can lead to a more frequent and comfortable sharing of information among employees.
3. Identify subject matter experts
Although knowledge sharing embraces the democratization of information, there will always be people within an organization who stand out as subject matter experts. It’s important to identify who they are.
Of course, it’s necessary to do this in order to ensure that people know whom to approach when they need information. But there are other reasons as well.
First, by identifying subject matter experts, you will know where mission-critical information resides. When someone chooses to leave the organization, you can take steps to make sure their knowledge doesn’t go out the door along with them.
It’s also important to acknowledge the contributions and value of subject experts in the workplace. You have to identify them first before you can publicly recognize and thank them. Additionally, there may be team members with valuable expertise that has gone unnoticed until now.
Finally, having access to internal expertise can benefit all workers. It may lead to fewer errors, increased productivity, and less time spent engaged in problem-solving.
4. Ensure that proven knowledge is added to a central repository
It’s vital to have a process that validates informal knowledge and allows it to be embraced as formal policy or best practices. When that happens, such information should be documented and added to some sort of central repository.
If it isn’t, it’s too easy for that knowledge to be lost. That can create information-seeking redundancies as well as the risk of avoidable errors.
Eventually, the knowledge that was once isolated to individuals or teams isn’t only shareable among employees. It can also be adapted for inclusion in more formal training and development initiatives.
Embrace technology as a knowledge sharing tool
The good news is that there are more tools and technologies available to help with knowledge sharing now than ever before. With the right technology, organizations can:
- Measure and map knowledge
- Identify where skill gaps exist
- Empower employees to collaborate regardless of location
- Share files and videos efficiently
- Create documentation
- Brainstorm and share concepts
- Synchronize notes and other data
- Create diagrams and animations
- Develop surveys and collect feedback
Organizations may not need to adopt a tool for every purpose. However, by having a variety of technologies available, including a knowledge sharing platform, leadership can make it easier for everybody to share and gather new knowledge.
Examples of knowledge sharing within the organizational culture
Here are some examples of how knowledge sharing can be implemented within an organization.
Mentoring programs generally pair more experienced employees with those who are new to the organization or team. The mentor provides information, advice, and insights to help acclimate team members, and empower them to make productive choices.
Mentoring is an excellent way to disseminate the kind of informal knowledge that doesn’t tend to be found in formal documentation but is exceptionally useful.
Idea exchange sessions
Call them ideas, knowledge transfer sessions, or brainstorming. These are regular gatherings that happen virtually or in person. The purpose is to get members from different teams, subject matter experts, and stakeholders together to discuss the challenges they are facing.
During these sessions, participants can exchange knowledge, information, and insights that may help people they may not interact with on a regular basis.
There are several options for sharing knowledge using online forums. There are wikis, intranet sites, chatrooms, and collaboration platforms. These are perfect for posting questions, submitting articles, sharing videos, and otherwise sharing information in ways that are comfortable, and familiar to digital natives.
Question and answer sessions
This is an opportunity for your subject matter experts to shine. Use question and answer sessions to allow team members to ask questions and gain helpful insights from these experts. These sessions can provide information to improve productivity, but also increase awareness and empathy.
Cross-training offers employees the opportunity to gain knowledge and experience from other work areas in real-time. This helps to break apart information silos. In addition to cross-training, there are also job shadowing programs as well as worker exchanges.
Companies that use cross-training tend to have better worker engagement and more cooperation between business areas.
Knowledge base creation
A knowledge base is a centralized repository of information that is accessible to anybody within an organization. It can include manuals, policy documents, procedures, frequently asked questions, videos, specifications, and other information.
By implementing a knowledge base, you provide employees with the means to access information as they need it.
Increase the power of knowledge sharing with an LMS
You want to build a culture of learning and ensure that information flows freely throughout your organization. In order to do that, you need a learning management system that can act as both a training and knowledge sharing platform for your team.
Continu offers precisely that, with the ability for organizations to:
- Centralize all learning or training materials and information
- Provide access to internal and external users alike
- Increase engagement rates with effective knowledge sharing
- Store information for quick access and knowledge management