How Leadership Teams Can Encourage Knowledge Sharing and Collaboration

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Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Emil Hajric. His opinions are his own.

It’s been said that knowledge is the new currency of business (and with good reason).

In the past, companies relied on physical assets to stay competitive. New offices, more equipment, or additional employees were the catalysts for growth. But not anymore.

These days, it’s all about knowledge – both capturing and sharing it.

Enter knowledge management. Or, as defined by the OPM, “the process by which knowledge is created, shared, and used in organizations.” Specifically, the information that’s “most important” for quality improvements or increases in production.

As it turns out, most employers agree that collaboration is a big deal. In a recent EY report, 81% of business leaders say capturing and sharing knowledge are the most important factors for success. Just ask the likes of Ford, GE, or Amazon.

They streamlined operations and saved billions in expenses by implementing stronger knowledge management solutions. Yet, the benefits extend far beyond revenue – for collaboration makes every aspect of the workplace better.

Knowledge sharing increases social interaction amongst employees. It also builds trust and enhances creativity – especially in regards to problem-solving and innovation. Yet, one of the biggest advantages is also the easiest to overlook.

You retain existing knowledge from employees who quit, retire, or move on.

Which is incredibly valuable when you consider the time lost training new team members or looking for solutions that have already been found. Knowledge sharing and collaboration are essential in giving employees the information they need (when they need it) to work smarter and stay efficient.

So, how can organizations best go about the process? What methods or tools can they use to generate enthusiasm, promote consistency, and ensure long-term success? While the strategies themselves are somewhat flexible, the source of inspiration is not.

If you truly want to encourage knowledge sharing, leadership must set the tone.

That means a top-down approach to the process. Starting in the front office and working its way down to the production floor. Effective collaboration requires that leadership set the example and maintain an active role in the process. Here’s how.

Create A Culture of Collaboration

It’s no secret how important company culture is in building a brand. Articulating your mission, values, attitudes, and behaviors goes a long way towards attracting (and retaining) top talent. However, defining how you capture and share information is a critical element as well.

Companies can promote a culture of knowledge sharing and collaboration with their everyday actions. For example, by openly sharing information and including everyone in the decision-making process. Like soliciting input on current issues and collecting feedback on future growth strategies.

Including employees makes them feel vested and encourages additional participation.

To further encourage knowledge sharing, company cultures should also emphasize interdepartmental collaboration. Removing the “silos” of the workplace not only encourages collaboration but also improves outcomes.

Studies show that inclusive teams make better decisions 87% of the time and experience 60% better results because of it.

Retool the Hiring Process

The hiring process is another area where leadership can promote collaboration. Making new employees feel welcome fosters open dialogue and encourages participation. Organizations that are serious about open knowledge sharing adopt similar strategies.

  • Mentorship/shadowing – assigning mentors to incoming team members offers several advantages. Mentoring new employees helps them find their “voice” and develop confidence faster. This practice also accelerates “knowledge transfer” – which reduces the learning curve and kickstarts productivity. As their confidence grows, new hires begin to share with others – both their existing knowledge and valuable new ideas as well. Which, in turn, encourages further collaboration in a self-sustaining productivity loop.
  • Communication – that goes above and beyond the norm. Letting new hires know what to expect, when, and why is critical. Then, constantly seek their feedback along the way to answer questions, resolve concerns, and ensure employees feel valued and appreciated.
  • Highlight success – throughout your culture but especially on your “Careers” and “About” pages. Consider posting success stories about employees or teams who’ve overcome challenges by partnering together and sharing information. Emphasizing the theme that collaboration is what made it all possible.

Bottom line – make it known that sharing knowledge is part of your company DNA.

You’ll attract talent who share the same values while repelling those that don’t.

Make Knowledge Sharing and Collaboration Easier

One of the best ways to facilitate collaboration is by removing the obstacles that prevent it. In traditional workplaces, employees are segregated by walls, cubicles, and offices. Which means people must go out of their way to collaborate or have social interaction.

Research suggests that open offices are not the answer. However, grouping teams together may very well be.  

Especially in comfortable, quiet areas with their own whiteboards, equipment, and room to relax. Giving cross-functional teams their own space makes knowledge sharing intuitive. While simultaneously drowning out the common noise and distractions of boundless office environments.

Technology is yet another resource to encourage knowledge management. Nowadays, applications exist for most everything – from remote meetings and file sharing to internal blogs, newsletters, and communication tools.

The options for sharing electronic information are endless.

Besides creating workspaces that encourage collaboration, consider adding social events to the office calendar as well. Such as workday celebrations or after-hours meetups that are fun, engaging, and allow for personal interaction and networking.

Strong peer relationships not only promote knowledge sharing but produce happier employees as well. Which makes sharing and collaboration all the more natural.  

Recognize and Incentive

It’s a simple fact – human beings crave appreciation. Being recognized makes us feel liked, valued, and brings a sense of meaning to our work. And according to a recent Canadian study, 58% of employees say that “improved recognition” is a driving factor for boosting workplace engagement.

This same report showed that high engagement scores generate elevated productivity, better working relationships, and employees willing to do more than what is expected.

A proven strategy to create engagement and promote knowledge sharing is to publicly recognize high-performers. Especially employees whose accomplishments are tied to collaboration or teamwork.

Highlighting the value of knowledge management encourages more of the same.

Share praise and give kudos in front of an employee’s peers. Whether that be through email, online, or during regular team meetings. Make it a point to recognize their efforts and explain how the results benefit the organization.   

You can also create contests that incentivize winners who collaborate and share knowledge. Encourage experimentation as a natural part of business development.

And reassure staff that failure is simply part of making progress.

Letting employees know you value their work – and trust their decisions – goes a long way towards nurturing cooperation.

Document the Process

Capturing and documenting information is the “secret sauce” to encourage knowledge management. Documentation includes everything from internal processes and daily operating procedures to customer support guides and troubleshooting steps.

Every business function that must be learned, repeated, shared, or archived should be part of your knowledge hub.

A recent global consumer survey revealed that over 71% of online customers expect to be helped within five minutes – with the majority preferring to use self-support options. Coupled with the fact that employees spend nearly 20% of their workday looking for information, the need for better data repositories is clear.

When team members have more access to the data they need, everyone benefits.

  • Customers receive better, faster service
  • Employee training time goes down
  • Workplace efficiency goes up
  • Team collaboration improves
  • Engagement remains high

While intended for employee and customer use, leadership teams must establish these knowledge bases and keep them operational. Many organizations start with shared drives loaded full of documents and spreadsheets but quickly learn this method isn’t scalable for long-term growth.

A smarter option is moving to a dedicated knowledge base support platform.

These cloud-based solutions are flexible, intuitive, and make it easy to create and deploy a rich content library. Many include enterprise-grade customization and analytics capabilities that are built for employees and customers alike.

Just be sure the solution you choose works with your current workflow – not against it. The best platforms integrate seamlessly into your existing infrastructure (and make you wonder how you ever got along without them).

Conclusion

In the end, encouraging knowledge sharing and collaboration boils down to three basic elements: Culture, Engagement, and Technology.

Company cultures that promote teamwork and recognize contributions attract more of the same. Onboarding programs and leadership styles that adopt a “people-first” mentality increase engagement and employee satisfaction. And knowledge base technologies that enhance workflows create a better overall experience for everyone involved.

Combine all three – and you’re in business.