“So what exactly does a data analyst do?”
“Nice presentation! I had no idea how Google Ads work.”
“Why does it take so long to design a web page?”
These are questions you might expect from a new hire in their first few days on the job. Sadly, questions like these are also all too common among long-time coworkers.
Knowledge sharing in the workplace is crucial for keeping teams aligned and helping your organization reach its goals. But many businesses struggle to communicate vital information within teams, let alone across departments, and it’s hurting their productivity.
In this article, we’ll talk about why you need to break down the silos that block helpful communication. We’ll also share tips for how to create a knowledge-sharing culture that inspires collaboration and innovation.
What is knowledge sharing at work?
Knowledge sharing is the transfer of information, both documented and undocumented, across teams and individuals.
Exchanging critical information openly helps preserve company knowledge and employee expertise. It also ensures that everyone involved in a critical project or deal has access to all the relevant information.
This critical exchange is restricted when employees or teams work in silos that isolate them from one another.
Why do silos happen?
People often end up working independently within a company not because of toxic work culture, but because of circumstances outside of their control.
For instance, even the most well-meaning employees stop sharing information when they’re under tight deadlines. They have to focus all their time and energy on urgent tasks and outcomes to meet expectations.
It’s also easy for people to start working in a bubble when a team is distributed across locations. Differences in time zones and working hours can make it difficult to keep up with information in real-time. And a lack of opportunities to casually bump into each other in the break room eliminates informal communication.
Working from home can also leave employees feeling isolated. When companies don’t have plans in place to keep everyone in sync, it’s easy for people to get used to just doing their job and not reaching out to connect their work with the bigger picture.
Why it’s important to break silos
Even though it’s easy to understand why silos form, ignoring them is a mistake—especially when it comes to knowledge sharing.
Knowledge is one of your team’s most important assets, and sharing it benefits your organization in many ways, including:
- Preventing bottlenecks
- Ensuring everyone can do their job well
- Helping new hires and younger workers learn the ropes faster
- Keeping collaboration strong across remote or hybrid teams
- Promoting better teamwork, which leads to better productivity and innovation
When employees and teams stop sharing knowledge and start working in isolation, you miss out on those benefits.
For instance, studies show that teams with strong collaboration are more productive and innovative.
Top among the things employees want from their workplace are an inclusive work environment and more chances to collaborate and build a sense of team. Silos prevent inclusive communication and can damage employee morale, affecting productivity.
Even when inclusion isn’t an issue, silos create barriers by keeping people out of the loop in critical moments.
For example, when one team doesn’t know where another is in a production cycle, it’s hard to plan for or hit important deadlines. Critical problems that come up don’t get communicated until one team or worker hands off the project to the next, causing potential rework as they scramble to address an unanticipated issue.
Silos harm good communication. If you want the advantages of knowledge sharing, you need to remove these barriers.
How to eliminate silos and boost knowledge sharing at work
To break down silos, you must establish formal and intentional knowledge management and sharing processes. And that requires ongoing effort.
A one-time presentation on the importance of collaboration might make people aware of the problem, but it won’t be enough to create and sustain organization-wide change. Here are five ways you can help your teams work together and communicate effectively over the long term.
1. Create a culture of knowledge sharing
Build an environment that makes it easy to communicate openly by helping employees get to know one another and build relationships of trust.
You can do this with casual interactions or formal meetings. For instance:
- Schedule informal team lunches or social activities to create bonding
- Hold an all-hands meeting once a month to discuss wins and make big announcements
- Hold regular breakout sessions for teams to discuss issues with their managers or brainstorm new ideas
- Invite subject-matter experts to share their knowledge in informal lunch meetings
Whatever approach you take, ensure you’re giving employees frequent opportunities to get to know their coworkers and exchange information.
2. Invest in employee development
Give people the tools and knowledge they need to do their jobs. Training is perhaps one of the most basic forms of knowledge sharing, but it can have a big impact on your company’s success.
Beyond giving people the information to succeed, employee training also helps you create a culture of learning that will keep employees engaged. You’re showing employees you’re invested in them, communicating not only necessary skills and tools but also a sense of your values and priorities.
Make sure you have a plan in place for remote and hybrid training so you include all employees equally.
3. Coach employees in soft skills
Even when people have opportunities to share information, they may not always know how to do so effectively. Soft skills training gets people up to speed on the best ways to work with others by teaching them things like communication, adaptability, and creativity.
An ongoing program of coaching in these areas can help people understand how to communicate vital information in a way that’s clear and that helps others take action. It can also show them how to adapt to new knowledge that affects their work.
4. Provide mentorship opportunities
Many job skills can be covered in formal training, but there’s a lot to be gained from on-the-job learning. Mentorship is a way of sharing knowledge between newer workers and their more experienced counterparts.
Consider ways to involve members of a distributed team as well. Developing a mentorship program for remote workers will benefit your employees in two ways: you’ll ensure job knowledge is passed on, and you’ll help remote employees feel more connected to the company.
5. Encourage employees to use knowledge-sharing tools
Communication tools are critical to keeping people in the loop–especially in remote or hybrid workplaces. When different teams are using different tools, information can sometimes fall through the cracks.
Establish standards for communication within your organization to make regular communication easier and more likely. Chat tools like Slack or MS Teams support informal communication where employees can share thoughts, interesting articles, opinions, or concerns.
More formal project or task management tools like Trello or Asana ensure critical changes in project status get communicated immediately.
When it comes to the tools you use, establish standards so everyone’s on the same page and getting crucial knowledge in real-time.
Knowledge sharing in the workplace is an investment in your future
You hired your employees because of their experience, expertise, and potential. Protect your investment by putting their knowledge to ongoing use.
When you break down silos and support communication across your organization, you make it easier to get everyone’s best work on the table. Your people will be secure in the value of their contribution, and they’ll keep your organization on track and growing into the future.