Getting employees to share their skills and knowledge with coworkers is a simple way to drastically improve strategy and quality within your teams. Yet, there are many reasons why employees often withhold knowledge.
To some degree, withholding knowledge seems to stem from the belief that giving up valuable information will decrease one’s perceived value to his or her employer. For example, if one employee always makes more sales than the rest of his team, he likely looks very valuable to management. Therefore, if he shares his knowledge with the team, that employee may fear the whole team will make more sales and he’ll no longer stand out.
Of course, a team of top-rate salespeople would be great for your company, but it’s only natural for employees to try to look out for their own wellbeing. As McMaster University’s associate business professor David Zweig points out, despite many companies’ emphasis on teamwork, most promotions and rewards are given based on individual contributions.
Accordingly, one of the first steps you should take to encourage more knowledge sharing among your employees is to emphasize the importance of effective teams over effective individuals. Keeping this in mind, there are a number of tools that can be helpful in encouraging knowledge sharing among your employees.
Below, I’ll discuss some strategies for incorporating three such tools.
1. Use a social intranet to encourage employee interaction.
An intranet is a company-exclusive service that acts as a social platform, information hub and employee communication portal.
Some examples of intranet services include Honey, Igloo and Slack. Although Slack doesn’t use the word “intranet” to describe its services, its communication, chat and file-sharing features are similar to those of a helpful intranet product. All of these services allow employees to share information with coworkers, and many incorporate the use of topic tags or hashtags to make previously shared information more searchable. This allows employees to seek and share information about common problems, minimizing the need for managers to step in.
While, of course, it’s a good idea to give employees the ability to communicate on a company-wide level, research has shown that knowledge sharing tends to occur more among employees who have similar positions. Such positions can be in the same department or on the same tier of the company hierarchy across departments. What this means is that, in addition to having a company-wide intranet service, it would be wise to create department-focused groups within your intranet so employees can easily share relevant knowledge with their teams, specifically.
2. Use a Kanban tool to share knowledge about team workflow.
If you aren’t already familiar with Kanban scheduling, it’s quite simple. Kanban is a workflow system that helps you organize your tasks into buckets. Often, these buckets are the different stages of your workflow process. For example, you might have a bucket for “Ideation,” “Prototype,” “Development” and “Completed.” As projects move from the ideation phase to the completed phase, you can see where they are in the process and maintain realistic deadline goals for your customers.
Atlassian and Kanbanize are a two examples of Kanban tools that were created with companies in mind. As projects move through the stages of your process, you can see which employees are working on different projects, at different stages. This not only increases transparency for you, but it also automatically gives your employees greater knowledge of the project’s progression and ongoing needs.
3. Use a note-taking tool to share strategies across teams.
While your company intranet can be a great place to share knowledge with team members, employees occasionally need a more informal knowledge-sharing service. Evernote is a great, multi-platform tool for such instances because employees can create and share text notes, images, digital handwritten notes, screenshots and audio notes with their coworkers.
Best of all, it syncs notes from your mobile to your computer automatically. When inspiration strikes on the subway, your employees can capture it in their Evernote app and share it with their coworkers via their Windows or Mac integration when they get to the office.
This kind of knowledge sharing may seem more laid back compared to more formal methods like case studies or written reports. However, the casual communication that takes place between employees in note-taking apps can help ease employees into more frequent communication. When employees communicate regularly, knowledge sharing happens more naturally and more often.
While traditional means of knowledge sharing are certainly valuable in the workplace, we need to re-frame how we encourage knowledge sharing among our employees. Using note-taking apps, intranet systems and workflow-oriented project tools, your employees can start to see knowledge sharing in a new, and helpful, light.