Companies are trying to stay competitive and dynamic by encouraging the transfer of knowledge between employees. Although businesses understand the benefits of employees sharing knowledge, the real winners here are the staff themselves. But what exactly are the advantages for employees? And how can you suggest or set up ways to share knowledge within your team or company? Welcome to the Jungle has a few ideas.
What is knowledge sharing in the workplace?
The transfer of skills between coworkers has been vitally important for companies of all sizes for decades. The Monitorial System, a teaching method developed in the 19th century later replaced by teacher-led lessons, served as the inspiration for this. Under the Monitorial System, more advanced students passed on their knowledge to weaker students. This type of peer teaching has come to the forefront once again as the model for knowledge sharing between employees.
Companies are making knowledge sharing a priority because it has considerable advantages. One of its main benefits is safeguarding in-house expertise and skills despite staff turnover. Another is creating a collective memory of what has been done or attempted, and even what has failed. This method actively engages employees as opposed to external training. It minimises costs and allows the customised exchange of information, as the knowledge transmitted focuses specifically on company structure and activity.
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Two types of knowledge
Professor Ikujiro Nonaka, a world-renowned knowledge management expert, defines two types of knowledge:
- Explicit knowledge is easily conveyed because it can be expressed orally, especially using figures and data. This type of knowledge is considered more concrete or factual. Some examples include the explanation of a manufacturing process, the evolution of a company’s finances, how to fill in a contract and so on.
- Tacit knowledge is more about an individual’s natural aptitude or acquired skills. Intuition, social skills and knowing how to handle a specific client are all examples of knowledge that is difficult to categorise. In The Use of Knowledge in Society, economist Friedrich Hayek explains how tacit knowledge is inseparable from the person who holds it. “Practically every individual has some advantage over all others because he possesses unique information of which beneficial use might be made, but of which use can be made only if the decisions depending on it are left to him.”
This type of knowledge transfer stems from tangible exchanges as opposed to the storage of information in the form of electronic files. Therefore, knowledge sharing is an evolving and adaptable flow of knowledge between people, not data gathering dust on a hard drive. To achieve this goal, the company must use all of its resources for continuous evolution. It must shift from personal to collective intelligence for an increase in skills that can be beneficial to everyone. Successful management of specific internal knowledge leads to intellectual stimulation and the acquisition of skills for all employees.
Recognition of employees who share their knowledge
Knowledge sharing benefits a company, but it can also be valuable for the employees who participate. Those who share their expertise are more likely to show professional maturity and higher levels of self-confidence.
- Sharing expertise means organising your thoughts and words clearly. This provides a comprehensive understanding of the subject and is a great opportunity to identify the strengths within your skill-set.
- Placing yourself in the “teacher” role is a chance to face questioning from your peers, which is an excellent exercise to help develop your thoughts and increase expertise. A kind of cross-fertilisation takes place when you feed off the techniques and ideas a colleague has shared.
- This new professional direction can inspire senior staff members. In the logical continuity of their career path, they are passing the torch.
- Being asked to transfer knowledge is akin to validation and recognition, which in turn boosts confidence in yourself and your abilities.
How to activate knowledge sharing
Proposing that your team or your company set up these tools is well worth it; everyone will benefit. As a manager or a team member, if you are convinced that knowledge sharing could help out you and your coworkers, here are several tools and methods that could do the job.
Set up a dedicated time and space
One of the best ways to build trust in work relationships and, in turn, broaden skills is by creating dedicated time and space to do so. Start by creating discussion groups dedicated to exchanging information. These exchanges must have rules and organisation. For example, the group can sit in a circle to give a sense of equality, the subject and time for discussion should be defined, the number of participants can be limited, and so on.
Creation of in-house, collaborative materials
Building a professional “Yellow Pages” at work is a great way to create interaction without any geographical constraints; each employee is listed in a programme with their skills and fields of expertise. One employee can consult another for specific knowledge, to compare ideas or to share an experience.
As far as technology is concerned, an increasing number of businesses are focusing on the concept of shared learning and proposing tools to help out. Collaborative platforms such as SpeachMe, a corporate wiki and Grovo give employees the means to post videos, texts and graphs that display their knowledge or analysis of a subject or technique. Unlike pure data storage, these tools make use of knowledge. They can be accessed and changed by anyone who has permission. The tools make information and data more readily available to employees, who will gain time that would have been lost carrying out research.
The role of knowledge manager
You can also ask your company to call in a knowledge management specialist. These experts are usually graduates of business or engineering schools, or they have participated in knowledge management training. They encourage knowledge sharing by developing a strategy, which is then approved by management. For this strategy, they identify expertise, encourage a spirit of sharing within teams and set up collaborative tools that create optimal conditions to circulate information and take advantage of the company’s intellectual capital. Knowledge management specialists hold key positions, especially within large companies that operate from several locations. They provide a bridge between the different entities and departments. This position requires attention to detail, good communication and teaching skills, as well as a 360° understanding of the variety of jobs in the company.
When run and supervised properly, knowledge sharing is beneficial for you and the entire firm. It can act as a performance driver by solidifying and increasing each employee’s knowledge, and it is a way to create bonds, raise self-esteem and gain skills. Knowledge sharing is a win-win solution that businesses can no longer ignore.
Translated by Mary Moritz
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