How to Prevent Enterprise Collaboration from Stifling Knowledge Management?

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Click to learn more about author Sandra Lupanava.

It has never been easy to set up robust Knowledge Management in an enterprise. Organizational silos, communication barriers, and knowledge complexity often stall the development of Knowledge Management practices.

In this context, organizations consider productive employee collaboration essential to successful Knowledge Management. Indeed, a collaboration-driven corporate culture facilitates employee interaction, thus intensifying knowledge transfer across different employee groups and layers. At the same time, collaboration can be a key objective of a Knowledge Management implementation. “The State of Knowledge Management: 2017-18” affirms that over 60 percent of respondents focus on boosting collaboration and information sharing among employees while adopting Knowledge Management strategies.

Meanwhile, organizations should understand that collaboration can bring new challenges to Knowledge Management and they can be quite difficult to address.

Knowledge Management Challenges Rooted in Collaboration

A great enabler of diversified communication, collaboration can bring new pitfalls that hinder Knowledge Management initiatives.

Uncontrollable flows of tacit knowledge. When employees exchange their knowledge without registering it, the entire corporate knowledge transforms into a flood of tacit knowledge. Knowledge circulates freely among employees who know each other while being unavailable to the rest. Moreover, the biggest part of valuable knowledge can stay unregistered and transmitted orally only. As a result, as soon as a knowledge owner leaves a company, knowledge gets lost unless remembered by another team member.

Challenge: Formalizing knowledge and making it discoverable for wide audiences regardless of employees’ relationship and physical presence in the office.

Siloed knowledge. As knowledge circulates via collaboration routes, it can get caught in the collaboration boundaries. For example, as employees often work in teams, they absorb the knowledge that team members generate, accumulate, and share. On the one hand, teams can dig deeply into a particular domain and shape a unique knowledge. On the other hand, guided by the team experience and opinion, team members can overlook alternative approaches to the same subject. This effect will be particularly visible when newcomers join a team and accept team knowledge as is. Siloed knowledge can also be appropriate for teams that include employees of a particular generation only.

Challenge: Taking knowledge out of team collaboration boundaries, so that employees can investigate a particular domain from different angles.

Knowledge gets mixed up with the collaboration noise. While collaborating, employees generate and exchange large volumes of information. Apparently, it can be quite hard to find valuable pieces of knowledge in the collaboration canvas, especially considering that employees rarely come back to the collaboration-related content and scan it to identify knowledge items. Moreover, if employees use several collaboration tools, it might be very difficult and time-consuming to follow each of them to catch knowledge droplets.

Challenge: Ensuring the process of knowledge cleaning so that pure knowledge stays available for further reuse by all employees.

Rivalry of collaboration and Knowledge Management tools. When employees start to collaborate in dedicated tools, they often forget to use Knowledge Management solutions. As a result, Knowledge Management tools stay idle and stop fulfilling their duties. They often transform into document repositories or host only regulatory documents that employees check from time to time. Such repositories get rare updates and the value of the entire implementation decreases dramatically. For example, this problem can be observed in organizations that use Office 365 with a variety of collaboration tools and run a third-party Knowledge Management system.

Challenge: Balancing Knowledge Management and collaboration activities through relevant software solutions.

Quick spread and active reuse of improper knowledge. If collaboration suppresses Knowledge Management activities, unexpected mistakes can arise. If employees make business decisions relying on their collaboration experience only and don’t consult enterprise knowledge sources, they can apply unproven methodologies and approaches, which augments the risk of error.

Challenge: Teaching the staff to consult enterprise knowledge sources and compare it with the knowledge acquired in collaboration with other employees.

How to Make Collaboration Foster Knowledge Management?

Collaboration-related challenges that impede the normal course of Knowledge Management are multiple. Fortunately, organizations can create a positive tandem of collaboration and Knowledge Management, particularly on a technical level. Now let’s analyze several possible measures and their implementation using the example of SharePoint and Office 365 collaboration suits.

Integrating Knowledge Management into Collaboration

To reduce the disruption between Knowledge Management activities and collaboration, it’s reasonable to integrate Knowledge Management features right into your collaboration tools or choose collaboration solutions that can support Knowledge Management.

For example, by implementing the platform for collaboration purposes, organizations can use SharePoint for Knowledge Management as well. Thus, organizations often locate a SharePoint knowledge base within a generally available corporate intranet or add Knowledge Management-oriented components on SharePoint sites. A wiki as part of a SharePoint team site, a knowledge-centric blog within collaboration communities, and knowledge libraries in a document management system are just a few examples of Knowledge Management solutions that can accompany employee collaboration in SharePoint.

Pumping Knowledge Out of the Collaboration Buzz

Knowledge cleaning is a tough task, so companies can think about dedicated features within their collaboration solutions in order to help employees mark out important pieces of knowledge. A dedicated system of digital tags or color marks can enable users to highlight knowledge items right on the collaboration thread. Conversation areas can also be coupled with special knowledge boards where users will register valuable ideas that can be later moved to a SharePoint knowledge base.

In any case, to ensure quality knowledge sifting, teams have to assign a responsible person to scan knowledge tags or knowledge boards and relocate the most valuable items to the team or corporate knowledge base. This person can also control regular updates of the knowledge base, as well as keep an eye on the quality of added knowledge and remove outdated or irrelevant knowledge items.

Ensuring Smooth Knowledge Flows Between Generations

A centralized SharePoint knowledge base can also be an effective remedy against siloed knowledge, as it will enable all employees to access an extensive compilation of corporate expertise. Both SharePoint and Office 365 can help to overcome a substantial knowledge disruption occurred between the younger and the older working generations. Relying on the example of KM practices adopted by Airbnb, organizations can launch relevant mentoring and wisdom groups right within their SharePoint collaboration solutions. For example, they can leverage the features of out-of-the-box SharePoint community sites where employees of different generations can share and discuss their knowledge, expertise, and best practices.

Organizing a Structured Collaboration

If enterprise and team collaboration are messy, it’s hard to wait for Knowledge Management to be well-organized. So before turning to Knowledge Management activities, it’s worth arranging collaboration processes. If employees permanently use multiple collaboration apps, consider reducing the number of active tools to 2-3, so that users are able to follow all collaboration history.

Disorganized collaboration can be characteristic to organizations running Office 365 with no clear adoption strategy in place. As a result, different teams and employees start to collaborate on a variety of SharePoint sites, in Yammer, Microsoft Teams, Outlook and Office 365 Groups and other productivity apps. If so, it becomes impossible to put all collaboration threads together and nearly impossible to remember which app hosts some valuable knowledge. By streamlining the overall collaboration flow and making teams collaborate in a few apps only, organizations have bigger chances to build well-controlled knowledge sharing processes.

Preventing a Misbalance

All in all, the most important thing that every organization can do while supporting both collaboration and Knowledge Management activities is to prevent potential misbalance. If put into strict Knowledge Management boundaries, enterprise collaboration can become highly formalized. On the contrary, when collaboration stifles Knowledge Management activities, employees forget about knowledge importance, which can have negative outcomes.

Keeping the balance between both spheres can be extremely beneficial for companies, as employees can not only collaborate freely but also contribute to the growth of corporate knowledge on a daily basis. Such software solutions as SharePoint or Office 365 can help a lot in this case. By going for SharePoint consulting, companies can tune their platforms to both collaboration and Knowledge Management needs and meet the requirements of diversified teams and employee groups.

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