Subject-specific skills are gold dust in any working environment. Skills are perhaps the most obvious kind of knowledge which could be shared between members of an organisation or group.
However, knowledge is a pretty intangible concept which can stretch to facts, general information, customer or client insight, and behavioural guidance (such as how to present to clients, or persuade your boss to give you a pay hike).
Naturally, some types of knowledge are more useful than others in the workplace. Deep knowledge about the specific processes required to complete work is possibly the most valuable kind.
An obvious example of knowledge-sharing would occur upon the arrival of a new member to any working group. More experienced members often need to share their experiences and help the new person to learn the required skills as quickly as possible. This is commendable practice, but can be a timesink for mentors.
As a recipient of knowledge, it is important to have a filter. You need to be able to override irrelevant information and retain only what you need to be able to successfully implement this knowledge.
We live in a noisy world. According to journalist David Derbyshire, each person absorbs an average of 174 newspapers’ worth of knowledge every single day. This information overload highlights the need for effective knowledge-sharing practices in any organisation.
How can you actively encourage knowledge-sharing?
Dana Youngren introduces us to knowledge-hoarding, which occurs when a member of a team holds the necessary knowledge for others to be able to complete their tasks efficiently, but intentionally withholds it.
Whether done out of shyness or spitefulness, the knowledge-hoarder makes it increasingly difficult for sharing to occur. This can actually be quite a regular occurrence, so it is important to identify ways in which knowledge-sharing can be encouraged.
Whether it be cushioned seats or an office fridge, these are crumbs of comfort which can make people feel more like talking. Instead of a cramped space, open and inviting spaces will help group members to interact with each other.
With any luck, bits and pieces of knowledge would be dropped into conversation, and people might come away from their coffee machine chat having learned some useful information which will allow them to approach their work in a more efficient way.
Moreover, as people form closer relationships they’re more likely to actively want to help each other.
Rewards to encourage content sharing
Tread carefully in order not to cross the line of patronising. Not everybody might be interested in a reward, but offering prizes or benefits for consistent contributions to knowledge-sharing will do a lot to motivate some team members.
Ideas include extended breaks, new stationery or even a bonus for making meaningful contributions over a whole year.
It is vital to let the wider team know about the types of knowledge that is genuinely useful, as it will encourage others to learn what to share with colleagues.
No employees should have to spend hours searching their email inbox, or for the correct document, to be able to find the information they need. There are plenty of tools for sharing information, so make room for them.
According to Bloomfire, there are several must-haves to make communication a slick experience.
- The ability to integrate a ‘Q and A’ section which shares the most important, or commonly-requested knowledge. This means it is available to every member of the team, and no time is wasted searching for this information.
- Mobile access. People are spending more and more hours on their phone each day, and plenty are conducting work from their phone.
- A responsive search engine. Team members from wildly different departments should all be able to pinpoint the knowledge which is specific to their domain, and dig it up quickly.
Smartsheet is an example of knowledge management software which fits the above criteria. It was created as a reaction to the common challenges faced when sharing knowledge, as outlined on its site.
The primary issue is that of the hardship involved when attempting to create a group environment which is conducive to knowledge-sharing. Organisations often find themselves resistant to trying out new techniques, and knowledge-hoarding is a known challenge.
Remember too that information can be sensitive, and any knowledge management system needs to keep information in the right hands. Smartsheet’s software allows for the identification of key people within the team who hold certain types of information. This reduces the amount of time team members might spend searching for the right person to ask a question.
Knowledge is power, but knowledge-sharing is too
Perhaps people don’t really feel comfortable sharing their expert knowledge because it gives them a sense of importance, or more accurately, job security. The only way in which organisations can help people feel relaxed when communicating information is to develop a knowledge-sharing culture.
It has been acknowledged how tricky this might be, but the biggest piece of advice would be to pull together a plan and stick to it.
This plan could include regular meetings with team members to help foster the right atmosphere, investing in a great knowledge management system, or ensuring the availability of information.
Make knowledge open to all at any time
Members of your team could begin to feel resentful if they realise that important knowledge is reserved for the upper echelons of management. This way, they are also more likely to hold on to any knowledge they become aware of.
Combat this atmosphere by expressing to all colleagues that more experienced information-holders are always contactable whenever they need anything from them.
Ensure that the key players are aware of this suggestion, and let them know that they should be enthusiastic when sharing skills and other knowledge with others.
Given the distributed nature of the modern workforce, you should explore using the right kind of comms tools to help people approach senior (and other, perhaps unfamiliar) members of the team.
Help people to ask for help!
Access to people for on-demand knowledge
Making experienced knowledge-holders easily contactable is key to unlocking insight at the right time. This is one of the key benefits of Guild, our app, which has been purpose built to encourage private, professional communications.
The Guild app allows professionals to join various ‘guilds’, which can be categorised by role, topic, or department within a workplace, among other use cases. Guilds are inherently private — only people invited to join can join. They allow for group messaging or one-on-one comms.
As such, it is straightforward for people to know where to post their messages. If something is particularly sensitive then DM a colleage directly. For other questions, you can simply ask the group.
Knowledge-sharing is definitely something which empowers organisations, and technology like Guild and Smartsheet can play a key role in helping professionals to connect, communicate and share information with each other.
Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash.
Originally published at guild.co on December 11, 2018.