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The Surprising Reason Knowledge Sharing Is More Difficult Than Needed

Why is it that in this glorious networked age, organizational staff report feeling more disconnected from each other than ever before? People are collaborating at unprecedented rates, and there are dozens of high-quality communication and knowledge sharing tools available.

Yet, the the single most common complaint we hear when doing discovery for our digital workplace design engagements is “I can’t find the people and information I need to do my job.”

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How could people feel isolated when it has never been easier to chat with someone on Skype, spin up a Slack group, or share a Dropbox folder?

We at Ideal State have spent a lot of time studying this dynamic. Here’s what we’ve come up with: the error many people are making today is that they assume that because it’s so easy for teams to grab a tool and collaborate, that should add up to healthy enterprise knowledge sharing and collaboration.

Let’s break this down.

The current set of technology that most people use for knowledge sharing includes such tools as Skype, Office 365, Slack, Chatter, Yammer, WhatsApp (for international work), Dropbox, Box, G-Suite and many others. These tools are designed primarily for “team collaboration”. What is team collaboration? Team collaboration is the daily work you do with your direct, day-to-day team.

What this means is that for most people they are communicating and collaborating quite well with their direct team. It’s when they need knowledge and information that is outside their team that the problem begins.

For example, you know your organization did a project in Zambia and you need to know some basic information about it. Or, you know your organization has dozens of staff with expertise in supply chain management; you just need to find one. How hard will it be to get that information? How many email “hops” will it take to try to identify the person that has that information? Often people just give up because it will take too much time to track it down.

The second big part of the problem is the proliferation of tools itself. This has led to great fragmentation in the workplace. Think about it: if six teams are all using different collaboration tools, how are you going to share knowledge? Chatter doesn’t talk to Skype and vice versa. It’s extremely cumbersome to do so, and it often doesn’t happen.

That’s the situation we’re in. We have loads of great tools that make it easy to share knowledge with our team. However, we’ve been unwittingly building countless silos--highly functioning silos for sure. And we’re wondering why it’s so hard to find information and connect with our colleagues!

The net effect of this is that knowledge sharing breaks down rapidly outside of the team context.

The answer to this problem is to recognize that the enterprise today is like a garden that has become overgrown due to overproliferation and lack of curation. The solution here is made obvious by the metaphor: the world of knowledge sharing within the enterprise is a digital workplace ecosystem, and it needs to be thoughtfully designed and managed.

knowledge sharing

An enterprise collaboration community is much more than just a collection of team collaboration spaces. It should layer community and collaboration experiences at multiple levels. It should support collaboration at every scale: team, department, cross-functional project, region, community of practice, and of course, organization-wide. Here’s the critical piece: you should be able to exchange knowledge from any one of these groups to another, and you should be able to find anyone with a particular skill or knowledge anywhere in your organization with ease.

Bottom line: a cohesive, highly connected, organization-wide, online collaboration community is a necessary component to effectively share knowledge in today’s enterprise.

There’s no doubt we’re being propelled forward into a more connected age by some very strong forces. By all appearances, anything that stands in resistance to this trend-whether it is an outdated hierarchical corporate structure, or even petty information-hoarding behaviors we are all so familiar with-will have to bend to this new organizational principal.

That’s what so exciting about this time period we live in. We can see the seeds of the new dynamic and a new organizational principle. Our organizations will function more like brains than like machines. Instead of information flowing mostly in hierarchical structures, there will be countless connections made at every level. With this, the organization becomes more aware of itself as a whole, and likewise it can act more fluidly and dynamically. This will also be a necessary trait to deal with the ever-increasing pace of change ahead.

Are you thinking about leading a digital transformation of your enterprise? You might be amazed at what new kinds of collaboration and knowledge-sharing can spontaneously arise when your organization looks at its digital workplace as an ecosystem.

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