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Knowledge sharing best practices

How to mind meld and keep everyone in the know

Meeples giving real time feedback

You like to think that your team runs like a well-oiled machine. From your perspective, they communicate well and handle tasks like total bosses.

But, what happens when a piece of that machine is suddenly missing? How does your team respond when somebody is on vacation, taking a sick day, or leaves for a different opportunity?

As much as you wish your team was ready to seamlessly take over those duties, it isn’t long before the wheels fall off. People can’t find the files and information they need and they have no clue how to complete the routine tasks that person always took care of.

The struggle is real – and you aren’t alone in it. Many teams fail to realize the importance of knowledge sharing. In fact, one survey found that a whopping 40% of respondents said that they lose specialized knowledge and expertise faster than they gain it. 

You can’t prevent your employees from ever leaving the office (seriously, we don’t recommend that), so it’s up to you to figure out how to better mind meld and spread that information and expertise across your team. 

This article will break down five different knowledge sharing best practices you can use to keep your well-oiled machine running smoothly – even when different parts are swapped out.

The undeniable importance of knowledge sharing

Meeples communicating as a team

You don’t want things to run off the rails the second one of your team members unexpectedly stays home with the sniffles. But, there’s more to the importance of knowledge sharing than being prepared for short- and long-term absences.

1. Prevent the “brain drain”

In an ideal world, you’d keep all of your best employees, but that isn’t the one we’re living in. 

Team members will leave, and new ones will join the ranks. However, here’s what you don’t want to happen: several of your team members leave within a short span of time and take a bunch of institutional knowledge with them. Now everybody’s staring at each other just hoping that somebody still knows how to move projects along.

Trust us, it happens. Even NASA has reportedly struggled with figuring out how to get boots back on the moon. Only a handful of the 12 astronauts who walked on the moon between 1969 and 1972 are still alive.

That’s just one of the many examples of the importance of knowledge sharing. By being transparent with processes and insights, you’ll prevent major skill gaps when team members are absent, whether that’s permanently or just for the day.

2. Boost collaboration and reduce competition

Not all workplaces are highly competitive. (If teamwork is already the name of the game for your organization, give yourself a pat on the back!) 

But, in some workplaces, employees often perceive information as currency. People become concerned with being the one person that knows the most or who is the most relied upon, so they end up hoarding information at the expense of their team’s overall success.

But when your team freely shares advice and lessons learned, that barrier gets knocked down, and you foster a culture that emphasizes collaboration rather than competition.

3. Increase productivity

Having employees who keep knowledge and insights siloed in their own brains is expensive. Inefficient knowledge sharing reportedly costs large businesses $47 million per year

Much of it ties back to lost time. When there’s a knowledge gap, your team members need to invest a lot of time into chasing down the resources and information they need to get work done.

Imagine if they had already been equipped with at least a basic understanding all that goes into that quarterly presentation to the leadership team. Well, that’d save a lot of time (not to mention moolah) in moving that project from “to do” to “done.” 

Knowledge-sharing best practices to close the gap

Confluence book

You’re sold on the importance of knowledge sharing. Now, let’s roll up our sleeves and make it happen.

1. Use collaboration technology meaningfully

Using the right tools can be a way of embedding knowledge sharing into the very fabric of your organization’s culture. For example, at Atlassian, we create pretty much all of our content in Confluence. It’s the way that we share knowledge with one another.

Because all our pages and blogs are open by default, Confluence acts as a centralized repository of knowledge for the company, where people can discover answers to questions they might have, find out what their teammates are up to, or learn about the specifics of different projects. 

This also acts as a knowledge library and helpful resource when new team members join the company, because they immediately have insight into all of that valuable information. 

For a non-Confluence example, turn to Westpac, a bank in Australia, that tried something a little different. They created their own learning platform meant to help workers learn new technologies that the organization was considering adopting in the future. Through the platform, Westpac’s staff can both consume knowledge by taking courses and share their own knowledge by creating educational content focused on their own expertise.

While this is pretty awesome, technology alone isn’t enough to create a knowledge-sharing culture. It gives workers a handy way to collaborate, but there have to be other efforts in place.

2. Give employees more flexibility with their time

Much of the way that knowledge sharing naturally takes place is just through socializing. You might find out about a different department’s new initiatives while you’re chatting at the coffee pot or checking in with your friend on the other side of the office.

When managers expect people to constantly be “working” (read: sitting at their desks and staring at a computer), they might actually be preventing knowledge sharing from taking place.

So give employees signals that it’s okay to step away from their desks, to talk to their colleagues, or to not always be working on a concrete task. Not only does that open those lines of communication, but it also forges new bonds. That’s important, especially when you consider that 40% of employees feel isolated at work.

Getting started is as easy as taking the time to grab a coffee and catch up with teammates during normal work hours and suggest that others do the same.

3. Offer something your employees want

Knowledge sharing is a priority for your organization, but how will you make it just as an important of a priority for your people? You can’t expect them to enthusiastically jump onboard just because you told them to. You might need to sweeten the deal a bit. 

Ask yourself what types of rewards would motivate your employees to freely share their knowledge with each other. Challenge yourself to get creative. For example, you could offer:

  • Public recognition at your team meetings
  • Some sort of swag or prize
  • A small financial reward or benefit

Not only do these types of rewards help get your employees on the right track, but they also encourage your team to snap out of a competitive mindset. Rather than making them think that hoarding their knowledge is the only way to be indispensable, you’ll put your money where your mouth is and show them that sharing with each other is the best way to get ahead. 

4. Revisit your onboarding process

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Remember, a true focus on knowledge sharing is going to require a culture shift, and it’s important to set the tone from the beginning with your new hires.

Take a look at your onboarding process through this lens. Where can you include more opportunities for knowledge sharing other than in manuals, contracts, and paperwork? 

For example, inject some new elements into your onboarding process, such as:

  • Presentations from other departments so new hires understand how everything fits together and get to know people outside of their immediate team
  • Time for your new hire to shadow someone in a similar position to get their hands on some insider tricks of the trade that might not be in your formal training materials
  • Pairing new hires with a mentor or buddy (this doesn’t have to be someone in the same department) that they can turn to with questions or challenges.

The buddy system can be particularly effective, even if two people won’t regularly be working closely. According to a report from Human Capital Institute, 52% of respondents said that they use an ambassador or buddy program – and 45% of those said that the program was either moderately (27%) or extremely effective (18%) for speeding up proficiency of their new hires. 

5. Ask for feedback

At the end of the day, the best way to figure out what you need to do to make your teammates more comfortable sharing their ideas is just to ask them.

You can do this a variety of ways, including through one-on-one conversations, shared sessions or focus groups, or a survey. Make sure to ask questions like:

  • How comfortable are you with sharing your ideas with your team members?
  • What makes you hesitant to share knowledge or your ideas with team members?
  • What can we do to open the door for more knowledge sharing? 

Asking for input helps workers feel empowered to voice their opinions in the moment. Plus, as a bonus, over time it builds a culture where all employees feel included, valued, and heard.

Two (or more) brains really are better than one

Let’s imagine that you put the above knowledge sharing best practices into play and your team is in the habit of being transparent with each other. Now, what will happen when one of your employees is away?

More than likely, your other team members will know just how to find the information they need and pick up those loose ends without missing a beat.

That sounds far better than that last-minute panic that ensues when everybody realizes that they either need to reinvent the wheel or wait for that team member to return, right? Yep, we thought so. 

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