How a Knowledge Management Solution Can Help a Weak Knowledge Sharing Culture

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knowledge managementClick to learn more about author Sandra Lupanava.

Knowledge Management advocates have been discussing and promoting the concept of knowledge sharing culture since the late 90s. However, even 20 years later companies still struggle to adopt knowledge sharing initiatives. In their report on the state of Knowledge Management , TSIA proved that organizations would like to achieve more positive outcomes from their knowledge sharing activities. About 40% of respondents claim that a productivity improvement of more than 30% would be possible if organizations were doing their best to share knowledge.

With this in mind, we decided to investigate specific organizational conditions that hinder knowledge sharing and to find relevant ways to encourage knowledge dissemination. Working through a specific Knowledge Management  approach, we have seen that collaborative methods of knowledge distribution, such as vicarious learning, can be extremely hard to implement. In many cases, bringing a specifically tailored Knowledge Management  system is the optimal way to organize knowledge sharing within an organization. To prove that, let’s take a look at relevant examples.

A Rigid Hierarchy: Knowledge in the Elevator

Although a pure hierarchy as an organizational structure is considered outdated, it’s still very common. In hierarchical structures, knowledge flows duplicate collaboration logic: they are top-down and one-way. Knowledge gets closed in an ‘elevator’, being delivered from managers to their subordinates.

In this model, collaboration between employees can be poor, especially if the hierarchy is seasoned with a strong competition among peers. Knowledge sharing in these conditions can be strictly formal and occurs only if requested by a manager.

How can a Knowledge Management  solution help?

A Knowledge Management  solution, in this case, helps to diversify knowledge flows and get knowledge out of the elevator. To give it a quick start, a department can use a Knowledge Management  solution to create a centralized knowledge base.

Responsible employees acting within a separate knowledge elevator will enrich the base with new knowledge items and assets that will be generally available via the search. That’s how employees can look for the needed knowledge regardless of its owner. They can also find experts and get their consultation, thus receiving knowledge equally from their managers and peers.

Since employees aren’t interested in sharing their knowledge, the process should be organized formally: adding and maintaining knowledge assets and items should become employees’ regular controlled task. Online training sessions and official communities managed in the system can also help. Additionally, live training carried out by in-house or invited experts and followed by Q&A sessions will help to extend employees’ individual knowledge and to stimulate organized collaboration.

Isolated Teams: Knowledge in the Loop

Although team collaboration favors knowledge sharing, an organization may include several well-formed static teams that almost never cross each other’s borders in their daily activities. If such an isolation occurs, knowledge still circulates freely among team members, and the inner knowledge sharing can be very successful. At the same time, this knowledge has little to no chances to penetrate another team. As a result, knowledge gets split up into clusters.

How can a Knowledge Management  solution help?

A Knowledge Management  system in this situation will let knowledge cross the borders of static teams and become easily searchable and reusable. To benefit from team knowledge, it can be externalized in a form of best practices, success and failure stories so that different teams can use this experience in their activities.

A Knowledge Management  solution will also help to achieve better knowledge homogeneity regardless of what team it belongs to. It can be reasonable to organize knowledge communities including people from different knowledge domains. Built-in cross-team forums and blogs filled with videos and learning materials will enable knowledge to circulate more freely, which can be particularly useful for newcomers joining a team.

Flat Teams: Knowledge in the Sieve

Flat organizations and teams released from all the hierarchical boundaries are rare but they do exist. The Valve Corporation is the most famous example of an organization that replaced corporate subordination with employees’ equality.

While the idea of a bossless culture might seem tempting, it can be pretty unfavorable in terms of Knowledge Management . Knowledge that spreads actively among employees can be left unfixed. It gets into a sieve that keeps only big pieces of knowledge, while small but important knowledge gets sifted out. As an organization doesn’t accumulate its knowledge intentionally, its corporate memory can be pretty weak. The risk of business mistakes rises substantially, because employees can be unaware of their peers’ expertise, not to mention newcomers who get lost in the chaotic knowledge flows.

How can a Knowledge Management  solution help?

A Knowledge Management  solution can assist flat organizations in saving their knowledge. As formal Knowledge Management  workflows won’t work here, employees can fix their knowledge in any form they like. However, it will be impossible to move on without a knowledge manager or at least a content moderator, who will classify, rate and unify the delivered knowledge.

It’s also important to pay attention to Knowledge Management  tools allowing to capture tacit knowledge. In this context, individual blogs can become popular, letting knowledge owners voice their unique expertise to the entire community.

Diversified teams: Exfoliated Knowledge

It’s pretty natural to see people of different age working side by side. While older employees possess rich expertise, the younger staff brings dynamism and innovative thinking. If employees of different generations collaborate successfully and share their knowledge intensively, it brings positive business outcomes. However, if employees segregate, knowledge gets exfoliated. In practice, it can have at least two negative consequences: senior staff can ignore important ‘fresh’ knowledge, while younger employees can make a lot of preventable mistakes if don’t consider the accumulated enterprise knowledge.

The age gap isn’t the only reason for knowledge to exfoliate. For example, if a team consists of explicit extroverts aspiring to share their knowledge and introverts who aren’t ready to collaborate, this can also lead to team and knowledge segregation.

How can a Knowledge Management  solution help?

A Knowledge Management  solution will work as a bridge between two different layers of employees. Even if two groups don’t start collaborating daily, they will be able to consolidate their knowledge in a dedicated knowledge repository and dive into each other’s knowledge when needed. Idea repositories can be created for representatives of different layers to share their opinion that can be then applied in real projects. This will also help employees feel valuable even if before they felt shy to voice their knowledge.

Remote Employees: Rocky Knowledge

Knowledge sharing can be cumbersome if an organization hires employees to work remotely on a permanent basis. The corporate knowledge is beyond the reach of these employees. What’s worse, employees themselves rarely collaborate with their peers; they seldom get third-party experience and don’t share their own knowledge. In such a scenario, corporate knowledge looks like a huge rock, and remote staff can hardly reach it or contribute to it.

How can a Knowledge Management  solution help?

A Knowledge Management  system can smooth knowledge sharing throughout the entire company, as well as stimulate knowledge sharing between remote employees and incite them to contribute to the corporate knowledge base. Organizations can consider creating a relevant knowledge community for remote employees, where they can exchange their knowledge, as well as invite them to participate in Knowledge Management  activities within their teams. Additionally, using a relevant system of bonuses, organizations will be able to reward remote staff for their input into corporate knowledge.


Technology Can Be the Only Way Out of Knowledge Silos

Devoted Knowledge Management  adepts often say that technology shouldn’t be the only way to address Knowledge Management  challenges. “Companies recognize the value of improving knowledge sharing, but successful Knowledge Management  requires more than technology”, sums up John Ragsdale. Yes, when a company goes for a fully-fledged Knowledge Management , technology alone won’t be enough to implement Knowledge Management  initiatives and get the maximum value out of them. However, if a company or its particular teams aren’t ready for a truly collaborative knowledge exchange, Knowledge Management  solution can be the best way to put Knowledge Management  back on the rails without breaking the corporate habits.


Photo Credits: ScienceSoft

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