Much of today’s organizational work is knowledge-based. Employees need to hone their skills and upgrade their know-how to become more productive. This can be easily done through shared team-learning. However, much knowledge within an organization often remains unshared.
In fact, organizations lose millions of dollars when employees fail to share their knowledge. Teams repeat mistakes and waste time searching for information that someone else already has. Such knowledge hoarding culture leads to bottlenecks, heavy retraining costs, and stifles the organization when it comes to innovation.
If you want to facilitate innovation within your organization, knowledge-sharing is crucial. It is a component of knowledge management and can be defined as the process through which knowledge is exchanged among groups, employees, organizations, and communities.
However, facilitating shared team-learning is not easy. In order to facilitate shared team learning, organizations must make notable changes to their basic management policies and choices, and make knowledge-sharing safe. Encouraging high performers to share their knowledge and then firing them will never foster a ‘continuous learning’ environment.
In order to make sure that employees constantly sharpen their skills and learn new things, organizations must follow the best practices mentioned below:
1. Encourage Effective Communication
Communication is key to effective knowledge-sharing. Communication between the knowledge bearer and the seeker makes it easier for the latter to understand the process of implementing the knowledge and benefiting from it. One-on-one communication plugs gaps and makes knowledge-sharing more effective. According to the study, ‘A Process Model of Vicarious Group Learning in Pharmaceutical R&D,’ a pharmaceutical development team was able to learn better from another team when they invited members from that team and engaged in effective discussions.
Two-way communication benefits both, the learner and the knowledge-sharer. The learner gets a clear idea of what needs to be done, how it is to be done, and what the resulting implications will be, whereas the knowledge-sharer gets an opportunity to rethink the process and come up with new ideas for innovation.
Here are a few things you can do to achieve effective communication and ensure knowledge-sharing:
- Encourage an open plan environment by clearly communicating that every member is part of the same team. This ensures transparency and builds trust and clarity, which are important when it comes to learning and knowledge-sharing.
- Define the roles and responsibilities of each team member clearly. This helps in increasing and bettering communication. Moreover, when each team member will be aware of the specific tasks and the areas they are accountable for, another crucial factor for building strength and mutual support within the team.
- To make your shared team-learning effective, it is essential to train your members so that they can bridge the communication cultural gaps. A few things that will help you do so include, standardizing the communication process, acknowledging the cultural gaps openly, and structuring the team and policies so that it becomes easier to promote intercultural communication.
- Create opportunity for informal meetings and discussions. A short coffee meeting or a whiteboard breakfast meeting can go a long way to promote effective communication. Let your team members relax and go over things they are working on or over the issues they are facing at work. This can help you bring some positive changes in communication patterns.
Achieving clear communication becomes even more crucial when the sharers and learners are divided by geographical boundaries as it becomes impossible for the latter to watch and learn. In fact, according to a survey by PGI, 79 percent of knowledge workers work from home. Therefore, organizations with remote working teams must encourage regular knowledge-sharing sessions through virtual meetings.
Create a schedule and set aside time for face-to-face collaboration, encourage employees to share and contribute content that will educate their peers and schedule off-site events where everyone can contribute to the knowledge-sharing.
2. Create Spaces for Shared Team-Learning
The environment has bearings on how quickly we learn things. Consider a situation – a knowledge-sharer and a learner interacting with each other, while another employee talks loudly over the phone, another one cracking jokes, and someone else playing games on their computer.
Also read: How to Build an Active Learning Culture
In order to ensure effective knowledge-sharing, organizations must dedicate a definitive space that is meant exclusively for sharing ideas and experiences. For instance, Google Inc. planned to build a number of small kitchen spaces when designing its new corporate campus as they found that their employees were more likely to share ideas and experiences in these areas. For air medical transport team members, it was a 10×15 ft. area near the helipad door that became their unofficial, yet mutually agreed upon space where they gathered, shared ideas and talked about prior experiences. Coffee stations, lounges, traditional conference rooms and even casual seating spaces can serve as areas for sharing knowledge.
Team leaders should work with their team members to identify areas that they find the most comfortable for knowledge-sharing. For remote teams, the ideal place can be a peaceful well-lit area without distractions so that the voices are heard clearly during virtual meetings and calls, and the people interacting can see each other clearly.
3. Downscale Information and Leadership Involvement
A culture of knowledge-sharing cannot be created overnight. Team leaders must encourage learning among team members and foster an environment that is conducive to learning. This means leaders must lead by example by proactively sharing knowledge and encouraging team members to share each other’s experiences and learn from them.
In fact, the attitude of the leader is critical to create an environment of knowledge-sharing and learning. A recent study revealed that leaders of effective teams support constructive conflict by making or clarifying summaries to come up with a decision or a command. However, this is decreasing over time and needs to be rectified.
Also read: Kolb’s Learning Cycle in the Workplace
Leaders must encourage team members to share information and articulate their opinion to collectively develop the team as a whole. Team members should be further motivated to constructively deal with differences of opinions by addressing them directly instead of getting their leaders involved in this. Such steps may include allowing team members to ask each other critical questions, verify ideas and opinions, act on the decisions taken, and so on. This will help to develop an environment where every team member has a shared idea of what is happening and what needs to be done.
4. Measure Effort Accurately
Measuring effort is as important for learning as it is for any other corporate objective. Organizations invest a lot of time and money to facilitate knowledge-sharing, which is why measuring the outcome of the knowledge-sharing process is necessary.
However, employing the traditional methods of effort measurement such as ‘Learning Curves’, ‘Experience Curves’ and ‘Half-fine Curve’ may not be sufficient to measure the effectiveness of knowledge-sharing in the modern work culture which is, almost always, online.
Organizational learning is best measured through the following three stages:
- Cognitive: Employees interact with each other, expand their knowledge base, and come up with new ideas.
- Behavioral: There is a gradual shift in employees’ behavior and they start embracing innovation.
- Performance Improvement: The shift in behavior leads to improved outcomes such as better quality of work, higher productivity, quicker delivery, and other tangible gains.
However, measurement is not easy in the first two phases. Learning audits can be performed with help of surveys, questionnaires, and interviews. These tools must be designed according to the individual phases of measurement. The third phase is comparatively easy to measure as it provides tangible results.
Knowledge-sharing instills a sense of trust and loyalty among employees and creates a strong company culture. Moreover, a knowledge-centered culture ensures rapid growth of the organization as well as the people working in it. Remember, effective knowledge-sharing comes from flawless communication between knowledge bearers and seekers. Dedicating a space that employees find most suitable for sharing knowledge and measuring knowledge-sharing efforts can ensure quick organizational growth.