Knowledge sharing is the corner-stone of many organisations’ knowledge-management (KM) strategy. Despite the growing significance of knowledge sharing’s practices for organisations’ competitiveness and market performance, several barriers make it difficult for KM to achieve the goals and deliver a positive return on investment.
This list of knowledge sharing barriers provides a helpful starting point and guideline for senior managers auditing their existing practices with a view to identifying any bottle-necks and improving on the overall effectiveness of knowledge-sharing activities.
The list will also give some indication of the complexity of knowledge sharing as a value-creating organisational activity.
The list is based on an academic paper by Andreas Riege [ "Three-dozen knowledge-sharing barriers managers must consider", Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 9 Iss: 3, pp.18 - 35] and is divided into three categories: personal, organisational and technological.
Personal knowledge sharing barriers
- general lack of time to share knowledge, and time to identify colleagues in need of specific knowledge;
- apprehension of fear that sharing may reduce or jeopardise people’s job security;
- low awareness and realisation of the value and benefit of possessed knowledge to others;
- dominance in sharing explicit over tacit knowledge such as know-how and experience that requires hands-on learning, observation, dialogue and interactive problem solving;
- use of strong hierarchy, position-based status, and formal power (“pull rank”);
- insufficient capture, evaluation, feedback, communication, and tolerance of past mistakes that would enhance individual and organisational learning effects;
- differences in experience levels;
- lack of contact time and interaction between knowledge sources and recipients;
- poor verbal/written communication and interpersonal skills;
- age differences;
- gender differences;
- lack of social network;
- differences in education levels;
- taking ownership of intellectual property due to fear of not receiving just recognition and accreditation from managers and colleagues;
- lack of trust in people because they misuse knowledge or take unjust credit for it;
- lack of trust in the accuracy and credibility of knowledge due to the source; and
- differences in national culture or ethnic background; and values and beliefs associated with it (language is part of this).
Organisational knowledge sharing barriers
- integration of KM strategy and sharing initiatives into the company’s goals and strategic approach is missing or unclear;
- lack of leadership and managerial direction in terms of clearly communicating the benefits and values of knowledge sharing practices;
- shortage of formal and informal spaces to share, reflect and generate (new) knowledge;
- lack of transparent rewards and recognition systems that would motivate people to share more of their knowledge;
- existing corporate culture does not provide sufficient support for sharing practices;
- deficiency of company resources that would provide adequate sharing opportunities;
- external competitiveness within business units or functional areas and between subsidiaries can be high (e.g. not invented here syndrome);
- communication and knowledge flows are restricted into certain directions (e.g. top-down);
- physical work environment and layout of work areas restrict effect sharing practices;
- internal competitiveness within business units, functional areas, and subsidiaries can be high;
- hierarchical organisation structure inhibits or slows down most sharing practices; and
- size of business units often is not small enough and unmanageable to enhance contact and facilitate ease of sharing.
Technological knowledge sharing barriers
- lack of integration of IT systems and processes impedes on the way people do things;
- lack of technical support (internal and external) and immediate maintenance of integrated IT systems obstructs work routines and communication flows;
- unrealistic expectations of employees as to what technology can do and cannot do;
- lack of compatibility between diverse IT systems and processes;
- mismatch between individuals’ need requirements and integrated IT systems and processes restrict sharing practices;
- reluctance to use IT systems due to lack of familiarity and experience with them;
- lack of training regarding employee familiarisation of new IT systems and processes;
- lack of communication and demonstration of all advantages of any new system over existing ones.
And a final point – worth bearing in mind for those people (or organisations) who think that a KM strategy is something that you implement as a document or a slideshow (I know, I’ve worked for a few!):
Why is it that some organisations still focus on the document, and being able to hold ‘the strategy’ in their hands? We need to be able to hold the strategy in our heads, not our hands and this happens when its implementation is embedded in what the organisation does, day in and day out.
Amen to that!