Do you work on a truly open team? Or are employees at your company just competing with one another in a gauntlet-style brawl for who can capture and hoard the most information?
Knowledge sharing in the workplace is the process of creating space for open communication about the wins, losses, and lessons that employees are collectively experiencing. Without a comfortable environment in which teammates can share openly, actual output is jeopardized.
Effective knowledge sharing happens when a company’s culture and technical infrastructure are aligned toward open communication.
Ironically, these fluid, open environments are achieved by implementing process; effective knowledge sharing happens when a company’s culture and technical infrastructure are aligned toward open communication. So when implementing better knowledge sharing practices, it’s important to develop a strategy that includes both cultural and technical infrastructure.
Streamline company culture for knowledge sharing
While company culture can take time to change, building the right knowledge sharing practices into the way that teams, leadership, and individual employees work will set you in the right direction.
What is your company’s relationship to information?
Understanding how your company relates to information is an essential first step when implementing knowledge sharing. Ask yourself:
- Are teams encouraged to be secretive or generous with what they’re learning?
- Do office politics play a major role in who is privy to which conversations, or what information?
These are the differences between a closed-fist and open-handed approach to knowledge, and it’s important to determine where your company lands.
At Atlassian, our teams openly share what they’re learning. This includes divulging wins and failures from experiments, sharing data from team research initiatives, and being transparent about both the good and bad results of campaigns or product launches so everyone can grow and benefit from the knowledge a team is gathering.
Teams are a microcosm of a company’s culture. Think about how the teams in your company encouraged to share what they are learning, and look for easy, low-risk opportunities to share more.
Are your employees information hoarders?
As you become more in tune with your team’s culture, it’s critical to determine whether or not employees are encouraged to be generous or greedy with information. If team members see it as advantageous to hoard information, this is most likely behavior that has been reinforced through the company or team culture. You can counteract this by developing practices that encourage generous sharing from employees.
Regular recognition and promotion of people’s work within your organization can be a powerful motivator for more knowledge sharing. Additionally, giving team members a sense of ownership of and accountability for their projects shows that they are trusted, and empowers them to share what they need and what they’re learning.
✅ Try this: Identify a project or regularly occurring task that you know a team member would be keen to take on and that complements their strengths. Be sure to communicate that this person now owns the initiative and is empowered to be decisive. Model open communication by encouraging them to share wins, losses, progress, AND setbacks. This normalizes the idea of sharing responsibility and knowledge, while empowering an employee to take the next step in their development.
If team members see it as advantageous to hoard information, this is most likely behavior that has been reinforced through the company or team culture.
What kind of example does your leadership model?
Transparency starts with leadership. It’s important for leaders to understand that how they act will inevitably be imitated by those they manage, for better or worse. Self-awareness about how you’re perceived by your team will help inform areas in which you may need to improve. It’s not possible to develop effective knowledge sharing without modeling the necessary behaviors and practices.
At Atlassian, founders and managers at all levels share information related to company announcements, team changes, and product implementations. Leadership also makes a concerted effort to celebrate work that teams accomplished over the previous quarter. This culture of sharing and celebration at the leadership level instills trust and transparency throughout the company, empowering employees to do the same.
✅ Try This: At the end of the next quarter, plan a company-wide town hall event where you give updates and commemorate the successes of a few teams. If you’re a project manager, set aside a time at the end of your next big project to update team members on the results of their work, and call out the wins.
Designing your company infrastructure for knowledge sharing
Infrastructure can be summed up as the systems (both digital and physical) that directly and indirectly shape our behavior, so it’s important to design environments that move people towards openness instead of away from it. Here are three practical areas where a company’s infrastructure can help align teams for better knowledge sharing:
Select the right tools
One of the core pillars of a company’s infrastructure is the technical tools they lean on to get the job done. This means finding the right combination of software to point the company towards knowledge sharing. The two tools that we rely on for knowledge sharing are Confluence (surprise!) and Slack.
We utilize Confluence for internal blogging; sharing information; creating strategy and planning docs; and updating each other on wins, failures, and learnings across the company. We keep all of our work open by default instead of road-blocking access with automatic permissions, so every employee has access to the company’s collective knowledge.
By combining Slack with Confluence, we’ve eliminated reliance on email (which often slows or halts open communication processes). Quick back-and-forth discussions can occur in Slack, and then subsequent feedback is contextualized on Confluence for posterity. Utilizing Slack as our primary chat tool allows for immediate knowledge sharing, and synthesizing that information in Confluence ensures it’s never lost.
These are the tools that work effectively at Atlassian. Finding the tools that work best for you is critical to your team’s productivity.
Overhaul meetings to elevate human connection
Meetings are a reality of any workplace, but there are a few practical ways to redesign meeting structures to elevate connection, sharing, and openness. We recommend that you always start your meetings with a casual conversation – it’s okay to talk about what people did last weekend or what new restaurant they tried out last night!
Developing practices like this allows team members to acknowledge the human side of working together. Sharing on a personal level will reflect in the group’s working style and comfort level with each other.
✅ Try This: Set aside 10 minutes to implement an icebreaker play at the beginning of your meeting. Allowing the team to have a laugh and learn something about each other helps employees feel more relaxed and comfortable for the ensuing work discussion.
Arrange your office space to encourage sharing
One of the most practical things you can do to support knowledge sharing is consider your physical space. Is it cramped, closed off, or restrictive? This might be impacting people’s ability to meaningfully connect and share.
We recommend rearranging or designing your office space with openness in mind. This allows employees to have quick meetings in common spaces, learn from people that they might not normally be exposed to, and engage in walk-by conversations.
These small but impactful changes are simple ways to elevate your team dynamic and set your employees at ease. Great collaboration starts with a trust in your teammates, and a culture of knowledge sharing ensures that success.