5 Ways to make my team share data and knowledge proactively

The ability to share information and collaborate is key to business success nowadays. Information systems must make it easy for you and your colleagues to work as a team.

One person’s knowledge has little impact on a team; but, sharing that knowledge makes it available to other members and generates feedback, questions, and modifications that add value to the original knowledge. Shared lessons about things that went well (or wrong) can be applied in the future to respond quickly to similar situations.

Cutting off the flow of knowledge leads to inefficiency, hasty decisions, and needlessly repeated efforts. In an HR magazine article Pamela Babcock pointed out that Fortune 500 companies lose at least $31.5 billion a year by failing to share knowledge. She also mentioned that companies spent $4.8 billion in 2007 to set up new systems. However, these tools are too tech-focused and their development often disregards information architecture and usability.

Sharing knowledge can be complicated—a team may not recognize what they know, or they might not be able to locate archived knowledge relevant to their current situation. Sometimes, the information system to facilitate sharing does not exist.

What can you do to motivate people to share data and knowledge proactively? And, how can you use technology to facilitate sharing?


Motivating the Team

Knowledge doesn’t get shared for a variety of reasons such as lack of trust, fear of ridicule, negligence, work overload or even apathy. To minimize these attitudes toward knowledge sharing, you must make sure you have your team’s buy-in. To do that you will need to:


Listening is the front end of decision making. “It is the key to building a base of knowledge that generates fresh insights and ideas,” Bernard Ferrari points out in a McKinsey Quarterly article.  If your team is hesitant about sharing ask your team to contribute and comment on activities and goals; or help they draw out critical information that you could add to your knowledge base, don’t just ask for immediate solutions.

Trust your team.
Trust your team to know what information is available, manage that information, and search for, use or share that knowledge by themselves. If trust and autonomy are not part of your knowledge sharing initiative, your team members will react negatively.

Layers of approval requirements for contributing or accessing information are cumbersome and signal your lack of trust. This drives people away from sharing.

Incentivize sharing by recognizing and promoting people who learn, teach and share. For example, Microsoft requires their employees to publish articles in their internal knowledge base to be qualify for certain bonuses. If people are not sharing, give them a reason to.

Note: Incentivizing contributions with monetary achievements may lead to employees composing meaningless submissions just to be eligible for bonuses. A better example is Xerox’s model that recognizes people as ‘thought leaders’ in their field for submitting knowledge; appraising people for their achievement is a better incentive that works well for everybody.

Act on their Ideas.
Nothing encourages people to share more than when you validate their ideas and knowledge by acting on them. By acting on their feedback you demonstrate that you value the team member’s knowledge. People love to see the fruits of their labor and getting appraise for it. You can watch Dan Ariely explain this more thoroughly in this TED talk:


Equipping the Team

Most knowledge management programs don’t address the key needs mentioned above. They’re not integrated with team members’ workflow; instead, these programs bury users with data and added responsibilities. These tools fail to take into account the user’s time and ability and most knowledge management systems are neither simple nor rewarding.

Consolidate knowledge management with the workflow.
If you ask your team members to jump over hurdles and go through ten different processes to input their knowledge, they won’t (and even if they do they won’t be happy about it). Sharing information should be as easy as assigning a task or updating task information. Seamless integration of sharing capabilities in the workflow is fundamental to opening up communications.

Make knowledge discovery easier.
A team manager or member should be able to pinpoint the correct information as quickly as possible. Files should be connected to a particular task in one place, so a team member could easily locate past knowledge if s/he has difficulty with a similar task. And your workflow management tool should allow you to selectively grant access to different members or groups within a project.

Celebrate and act on Team contributions to garner more sharing.
Nothing validates team members’ feedback and suggestions better than acting on their input immediately. Integrating discussion capabilities with your workflow management will let team members submit and view comments by others in real time. Not only will the discussion be open, you can also use the quality of the discussion to monitor the progression of your project.

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