Knowledge-sharing in the Enterprise

An effective suite of enterprise social tools can help organizations share knowledge, collaborate, and cooperate – connecting the work being done with the identification of new opportunities and ideas. In an age when everything is getting connected, it only makes sense to have platforms in place that enable faster feedback loops inside the organization in order to deal with connected customers, suppliers, partners, and competitors. It takes a networked organization, staffed by people with networked learning mindsets, to thrive in a networked economy.

Getting work done today means finding a balance between sharing complex knowledge to get work done (collaboration), and innovating in internet time (cooperation).

Watch the video to see how this model was initially developed: case study

Individual workers can develop agile sensemaking skills, using frameworks like personal knowledge mastery, to continuously learn and put their learning to work. For example, they can seek new ideas from their social networks, make sense of these ideas through experimentation with their communities of practice, try new ideas out alone or with their work teams, and then share these lessons learnt and new practices.

The Knowledge-sharing Paradox

But there is a major issue that gets ignored by software vendors, managers, IT departments, and most everyone else except the workers themselves. People will freely share their knowledge if they remain in control of it. Knowledge is a very personal thing. Most workers do not care about organizational knowledge bases.

“So my conclusion this time around was that the centralized stuff we spent so much time and money maintaining was simply not very useful to most practitioners. The practitioners I talked to about PPI [personal productivity improvement] said they would love to participate in PPI coaching, provided it was focused on the content on their own desktops and hard drives, and not the stuff in the central repositories.” –Dave Pollard (2005)

Professionals care about what they need to get work done. However, if we are going to build organizational knowledge from individual knowledge-sharing, we have to connect the two. The challenge is to enable ‘small pieces’ (individual knowledge-sharing) but keep them ‘loosely joined’ (minimal control) — to seek, make-sense of, and share knowledge.

The knowledge sharing paradox is that enterprise social tools constrain what they are supposed to enhance. Why would someone share everything they know on an enterprise network, knowing that on the inevitable day that they leave, their knowledge artifacts will remain behind? I could not imagine having my blog of fourteen years cut off from me. I would not put anywhere near the effort I do now if someone else controlled my access to this blog.

Enterprise knowledge sharing will never be as good as what networked individuals can do. Individuals who own their knowledge networks will invest more in them. Innovation outside of organizations will continue to evolve faster than inside. Companies that develop structures and policies that bridge the individual-organizational knowledge-sharing divide will have significant business advantages.

The responsibility for knowledge-sharing must remain with the individual, but the organization can collect, curate, and redistribute what is shared. The organization can also help by providing tools and coaching on PKM. The organization’s role in knowledge-sharing then moves from being directive to facilitative.