‘Knowledge management’ is the strategic business process of managing the intangible intellectual capital, or assets, of the organisation to continuously improve effectiveness. Knowledge is the currency of a successful business: it is the power needed to innovate, and it should be actively managed and shared.
The process of knowledge management within an organisation involves identifying and evaluating the critical knowledge areas; capturing and representing the knowledge, including ideas and lessons learned; and sharing and transferring the knowledge to the right people via alternative physical and virtual methods. Most importantly, knowledge management involves applying the knowledge that is shared in decision-making and collaboration to improve the future of the business.
In flexible workplaces, with reduced employee visibility and fewer familiar interactions, there is an even greater need to manage knowledge and promote deeper knowledge sharing. The notion of sharing is actually fundamental to flexible working approaches such as Activity-Based Working (ABW). The physical and virtual environments in which we work have a direct impact on the way that we share and develop knowledge. For instance, the physical proximity between employees will influence how often they communicate with each other, and the types of relationships they develop will, in turn, influence the quantity and quality of their communications.
Many factors influence knowledge sharing, including:
_Individual factors influencing the motivation for sharing (e.g. perceptions of trust and power, and competencies in communication, collaboration and socialising)
_Organisational factors influencing the value of sharing (e.g. leadership styles, performance appraisal systems and sharing opportunities in team processes and procedures)
_Information and communication technological factors influencing the ease of sharing (e.g. appropriate tools and resources, and the development of skills through training)
Knowledge sharing is not limited to sharing documents; it means enabling people to share knowledge within a sharing culture, as opposed to a knowledge hoarding culture. A sharing organisational culture motivates its people to be open and share knowledge, whereas a hoarding culture is siloed with people hoarding knowledge for power, status and relevance. To transition people into a knowledge sharing culture, companies need to motivate them to positively participate in knowledge sharing: changing the way that they think, feel and behave every day. The culture needs to reinforce and celebrate the knowledge related successes and achievements at a collective team level (balanced with recognising the contribution of the individual). The perception that the individual achieves success if the team/group unit achieves success needs to be constantly reinforced.
In summary, organisations need to motivate their people to share knowledge to improve effectiveness. This is particularly relevant in flexible workplaces that only work when people share cohesively. It is important to recognise that before people will share knowledge, they need to be motivated to do so.
For companies aiming to improve the effectiveness of their workplaces (traditional or flexible), here are some hints on promoting knowledge sharing:
_There is a social component to knowledge sharing. Instinctively, humans are social creatures and need to feel like they belong to a group, through some type of connection, before they ‘trust’ others enough to share something with them
_People need to see the benefit of knowledge sharing – a purpose such as meeting an official objective or helping a team member they care about
_People need to feel like they are gaining something from sharing, such as mastering a competency and learning, or benefits related to collaboration
_People need to feel like they have the autonomy to knowledge share, and the skills to do so
_Leaders have a role to play in promoting knowledge sharing between team members by creating an environment where sharing is supported through connections and even formal policies and procedures
_Knowledge sharing should be reinforced through key performance indicators that acknowledge the improved quality of employee and business outcomes with knowledge sharing
Keti Malkoski, Schiavello Workplace Research Psychologist
Follow Keti on twitter @kmalkoski