Knowledge sharing in business can be defined as the process for transferring knowledge internally between individuals and teams . Knowledge management is then the process of how the sharing happens and how you store the knowledge collected!
Most often knowledge involves business process information but also includes best practice tips and any other knowledge that has been learned through experience. This includes things that might not be necessary to get the ‘thing’ done but can provide a better experience or more efficiency.
By sharing knowledge, you can turn it into an asset that everyone can use and apply to their work. This ensures that your team is working effectively and consistently and that you (and your customers) can expect the same output and quality.
Once upon a time, knowledge within a business would be the same for years. However, in today’s digital world, relevant knowledge becomes irrelevant at an alarming rate and employees are coming and going faster than ever!
So why should you embrace and have a knowledge sharing culture within your business?
Knowledge is ALWAYS accessible for everyone
Team members don’t have to wait until someone with specific knowledge returns from holiday, leaders to be free from meetings, or spend an hour looking for the answer to their question. They can easily find it when they need it and apply it to their work to perform more effectively and efficiently.
You can retain knowledge – one of your biggest assets!
Most team members won’t stay with your business forever. And when they leave, they take their knowledge with them. But if they share it with their team members, their knowledge will be passed on to others and will stay within your business. This is especially true when it comes to senior employees and those who are about to retire.. These long-standing employees have huge amounts of knowledge and it’s a huge loss for your business if it is not shared and a part of your collective knowledge.
A business with a positive knowledge-sharing culture, will benefit from increased efficiency, greater innovation, lower costs (think of all the resources saved when research and work does not need to be duplicated) and more engaged employees.
However (and something to keep a close eye out for!)…..
One barrier to a knowledge-sharing work culture is when your employees “hoard” information and guard their knowledge because they feel the information is crucial to their value within the business, they feel irreplaceable, or they may feel intimated to share knowledge for the fear of negative feedback.
But sharing knowledge in the workplace can be a catalyst for collaboration and removing the walls of organisational silos (we have all seen situations where someone goes on leave, or suddenly falls ill and no one else can fill in for them while they are gone) allowing your team to find solutions faster, increase performance, and provide consistent, exceptional experiences to your customers (both internal and external).
We also live in a world of increasingly hybrid and remote working arrangements meaning there are less opportunities for people to meet and share information casually.
So how do you build a knowledge-sharing culture and where does that information go?
It starts with you. As the business owner, you need to model knowledge-sharing behaviour. Documentation and knowledge sharing need to become a regular part of your workflow.
Only then can you expect your teams to follow.
Create clear guidelines. This is where your knowledge management solution comes in. Ensure that you include in your documentation process, exactly the type of knowledge that should be shared and prompts to walk the team through with extracting this information.
- When to update a process
- What to include in the process outside of the step by steps
- Examples of when things have gone well and gone wrong
- Contingency planning
- Experience knowledge – things that fall outside of the actual process itself but are handy to know – contacts for suppliers, shortcuts or quick tricks, other information that only comes from regularly performing a process
- How to share this information out to the team
Express thanks for sharing. Team members like to be recognised for the work that they are performing within a business but typically are not recognised for sharing knowledge with little to no feedback being given leaving them to wonder if their knowledge is useful to others or if it was even worth the effort of sharing it!
How you do this is up to you but ideas include a simple thanks, having a knowledge sharing agenda item as part of your regular team meetings, or the ability to leave feedback on your knowledge management solution are all great ideas.
Eliminate any barriers that are restricting free flow of information. Look for things like team members in different time zones who may struggle to communicate directly. Is there competition between teams that should be cooperating but are instead competing. Identify any issues that might be within your business and address these head-on.
In the end, it is the role of your leaders to ensure the free flow of important information is actually happening on a day-to-day basis.
So take a look at your current culture and how your team is sharing and retaining their knowledge. Identify the steps that you need to take to implement or improve, and ensure that you are taking consistent action in this area.