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Articles: Knowledge management

Improving Your Knowledge-sharing Culture
Michael Robins
: Issue 42

When firms invest thousands of dollars in their knowledge management infrastructure and do not see the returns months later, managers begin to panic. When there are no signs of problems with the applications being used in the department, managers must examine the entire department. To be accurate, managers must assess the knowledge-sharing culture within their company.

A knowledge sharing culture is an environment where individuals are willing to disseminate information regardless of the size of the organization or company. In order to do so, individuals must adhere to the norms, values, attitudes and beliefs established by the organization. When these aspects of the knowledge sharing are breached, information will not reach the intended audience and will thus cause a knowledge-transfer bottleneck.

In order to improve a knowledge-sharing culture, a structured plan should be followed. Here are a few elements of a plan that should be taken into consideration by managers if they need to re-design their culture:

  • Stress the need to share
  • Promote trust
  • Beware of information overload
  • Have the correct tools
  • Change the sharers
  • Report small problems
  • Build a solid relationship with your vendor

Stress the need to share

Although this aspect may seem elementary, it is often overlooked. From the moment an individual is brought into a knowledge management unit, he or she should know the importance of sharing the right information with the right people. With sharing being a norm for companies that depend on information to make sound business decisions, knowledge workers must be prepared to disseminate relevant data on an ad hoc basis. To do so, they must:

  • Know how knowledge sharing has helped the company in the past through the use of case studies and best practices report
  • Be trained on the tool used to share information within the company
  • Be provided with "a cause-and-effect analysis" of disseminating information when it is needed
  • Be rewarded when information is shared (Read, "Developing Rewards and Recognition for Knowledge Sharing")

Individuals who are unable to see the need to share within the company may not be the most appropriate persons to work in the unit.

Promote trust

One of the most crucial elements behind a solid knowledge-sharing culture is trust. If there is a lack of trust within the company among personnel, knowledge will be hoarded. Information that is in the hands of a few individuals can be dangerous. When only a selected few have access to knowledge, they become powerful individuals in the company and can influence decisions that are made by top management.

To avoid this situation, managers must promote an environment where knowledge workers can trust their colleagues regarding what they have discovered and analyzed. The following strategies can be implemented to provide a safe and trusting department where information will not be hidden and used for someone's own purposes.

  • Select the right individuals. The department should not be made of individuals with their own respective goals. Instead, it should be made of individuals who can form a team to get tasks done. Team members who have been together for a long duration seem to build relationships based upon trust.
  • Assess the environment. Managers must discover why there is a lack of trust among colleagues. Finding out the root causes will lead to removing the barriers to trust. Obtaining the input from the personnel working in the unit can accomplish this goal.
  • Participate in team building exercises. Personnel should be removed from the working environment and be taken to a retreat to be involved in a series of team-building exercises. The exercises should mimic the processes that knowledge workers will carry out on a regular basis.

Beware of information overload

Information overload can hinder a knowledge-sharing culture. With the enormous amount of data flowing into a company and the limited amount of time that knowledge workers have per day, there is a limit to how much an individual can disseminate. Being constantly bombarded with information can cause individuals to share the bare minimum, while leaving the rest of the data in emails and databases. As a result, vital information will be held back from the individuals who need easy access to it.

If information overload is threatening the culture, the following tips can be used to help improve the process of sharing information in a company.

  • Begin to filter information on the basis of keywords
  • Conduct more focus searches on the Web and databases
  • Readjust the approach used to gather information internally
  • Have a solid criteria to judge what is relevant to the department

Have the correct tools

In order to have individuals contribute to a culture that promotes knowledge sharing, they must be given the right tools to deliver data within the company. By listening to the needs of the knowledge workers, managers should be able to evaluate what is needed to transform their department into an efficient unit that transfers data within a few clicks of a mouse.

To ensure that the individuals who will be sharing information throughout the company utilize the right tools, managers should consider:

  • Investigating which of the present tools in the company are being used to share information
  • Discovering how the present tools can be used more efficiently to make information accessible
  • Continuing to obtain the best possible tools to assist individuals in their work of providing data to key decision makers
  • Finding the tools that will be the right fit with its users for the long term
  • Training personnel to use the applications to execute sharing tasks efficiently

Once the tools are obtained and utilized by the intended users, managers must constantly evaluate the performance of the applications and make the necessary modifications to ensure that the department is not encountering any difficulties distributing information.

Change the sharers

If the situation should arise that individual(s) in the department are hindering the flow of data in the company, managers have the power to replace the individual(s). With substantiated claims, personnel can be repositioned within the department to ensure that the skilled individuals who are motivated to share are in the right place. Changing the sharers will breathe new life into the knowledge management unit and hopefully bring new ideas to the table.

Making the necessary changes in personnel is a very delicate issue to tackle. Not wanting to be unfair when removing individuals from their present job, managers have to consider issues such as:

  • Are the individuals unhappy with their current tasks within the department?
  • Are the individuals skilled enough to remain a part of the team?
  • What contributions have the individuals made over the past 6 to 12 months?
  • Can the company afford to make the necessary changes?


Although this article discussed a few practical suggestions to improve a knowledge-sharing culture, it is unfair to assume that changes can be seen in the short term. Just as with corporate cultures, time is required to modify the norms, values, attitudes, and beliefs which drive some knowledge-sharing cultures. In order for managers to implement the necessary changes, a timetable should be followed to ensure that the modifications are not causing more problems for the department.

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