Knowledge Sharing Cultures: A Business Tool of our Times

knowledgeTrue high performing knowledge sharing (KS) cultures in Australia are relatively rare. Europe and the USA however, have been familiar with this science for some time and these days you can even gain a degree in Knowledge Management at Harvard.

 

Without realising it, many Australian organisations are operating like icebergs, with most of their potential untapped. Also, their rigid style of management does not encourage a knowledge sharing culture to prevail.

 

In the 2000's some enlightened companies have come to realise, without a specific knowledge sharing capability directly related to their organisation, corporation or business, the likelihood of innovation, growth and potential are well below what they could be.

With the right knowledge-sharing approach these companies are releasing the full potential of resources they already have without massive new expenditures. What they are gaining in productivity and innovation is quite spectacular and they are thriving even in dire economic times.

Interestingly enough, there are relatively few that have seen the light. Organisations are reluctant to try something they don't know much about or believe is just an esoteric, new age philosophy packaged up for business. They are also wary of spending dollars in this economic climate and content themselves that they already share knowledge by having regular meetings.

Delivering sustainable improvements through knowledge sharing cultures is a real skill though and needs a qualified practitioner to guide employees and management.

One of the first things that a group undergoing their first efforts in a Knowledge Sharing culture program needs to do is have an open mind and trust their co-workers, managers and most importantly the Knowledge Sharing practitioner who enables the whole process.

Hugh Bathurst (MKM) a qualified Knowledge Sharing practitioner said, "I'd actually call myself an Enabler rather than a Facilitator. Knowledge Sharing is mindset and discipline more than a technique or technology. Working with Thought Leaders prepared to have a go, we create a one on one or group 'knowledge creating' conversation environment that's designed to 'get straight to it' – to tease out the gems of knowledge we know are there in every individual and group.

Every group has different needs and works in different ways, so what I find exciting is that no two groups are the same and all arrive at different milestones in surprisingly innovative ways. The best lasting solutions are ones that come from within where individual ownership is strong and real. I find myself learning from each and every group I work with and document the improvement so we get better after each knowledge sharing experience."

Employees and managers often find sharing important knowledge with others in their own group unfamiliar. So having someone around dedicated to the task has proven to make all the difference.

The Knowledge Sharing process is not a series of glorified meetings. The KS Enabler de-mystifies the process for the group, thereby quickly building trust. "People start to share meaningfully, and when that happens, I just move back a little while still hosting the knowledge creation process – ideally with another respected member of the team. It is their journey; I'm just a catalyst. An enabler.

"What for me is a brilliant moment in our conversation sessions is when the whole group just cottons on to what we're trying to achieve. Those light bulb moments are just golden. Everyone fires off each other and away we go with new ideas, new processes for speeding up company procedures and securing lasting improvements. I know then we have unlocked their creativity we have ideas flowing, participants relax, feel confident and begin to really enjoy the process because it is creative and there are no limitations. Once we reach that 'self motivation point' we're off. Senior management have given them that 'all important' permission to share knowledge and things usually take off quickly once this 'it's OK to share' reality sinks in" said Bathurst.

As the KS program kicks in with regular and increasingly useful conversations, people soon begin to innovate and problem solve at the highest levels. In what seems like no time at all the group builds a new blue print for growth, capability and innovation – free of the burden of concern for obstacles they're sensing. They also acquire along the way, a priceless inventory of useful team knowledge they actually use which is reliably at the team's fingertips.

At every opportunity the Enabler is crafting high value / long term team knowledge that steadily bubble to the surface. This removes an enormous burden from the Thought Leader as well as those participating in the knowledge creation process. It enables those closest the coal face to truly relax and reflect on what's really going on, or should be really going on. The tools, processes and team knowledge for each group are there for all employees and management to see straight away, thanks to the use of technology.

The process is designed to be self-sustaining from the start with all practices and processes open for anyone to see and learn. For teams that respond quickly the sky's the limit and the flow never stops.

One of Hugh Bathurst's current success stories is within a large global engineering company who have been using his expertise to guide them into a new era of business improvements through knowledge sharing cultures.

One recent example was when Hugh was speaking to a highly qualified engineer who was about to retire. Hugh found that he was very reluctant to talk about himself. Hugh persisted patiently over a period of time and eventually the specialist casually mentioned he had 'a few notes' that might help others in the team he was leaving.

He gave Hugh a twelve inch pile of notes and procedures that he had collected and used over many years to help him get the job done. He was happy to share this with his colleagues when Hugh asked. No one knew he had this collection of documents that helped him make consistently good decisions because no one had ever asked. Now this valuable collection of team knowledge is within easy reach of the team and all are thankful to be benefitting.

A senior manager in the engineering consultancy who is the Thought Leader of the pioneering KS program and works closely with Hugh Bathurst is more than impressed with the results in his area and wants to see knowledge sharing implemented in his company across the board, regionally, nationally and globally. "We've now got documented innovations for processes that save us time and money. But I'm really impressed with the way our team are talking to each other. To me this intangible outcome from Hugh's efforts is more important than the tangible team knowledge he's made visible.

The team now trust each other more and there's a higher flow of innovative ideas – that's the exciting part for me. Another tremendous by-product is staff retention. Our teams are happier and more fulfilled than they've ever been. Some of my staff even come in of their own accord on weekends to finish their knowledge sharing projects. I know they'll continue this process and it'll become self generating," said the Manager.

Sooner or later enlightened corporations must take the Knowledge Sharing process on board and embrace it. Knowledge has been, and still is, an undervalued asset but not making efforts to setup knowledge sharing cultures within an organisation can lead to negatives such as isolation, resistance to change and unhappy employees who leave because they feel they're not directly contributing to the team learning and sharing process.

Companies that have been taken the step to improve outcomes through knowledge sharing cultures are thriving, growing entities where people want to be, that are out of the legacy years of the 20th century forever.

 

By Yvonne Marsh