Effective Knowledge Management



A flat structure in any organisation is a panacea that businesses focus on to empower them to create a culture of progression where their employees feel engaged and invested. However, the issue with this seemingly idyllic set-up is that for any successful organisation to make critical decisions and move forward, there is a natural need for hierarchy, leadership and key decision makers.  Managing by consensus is a fantastic goal as it means that the entire team naturally are engaged with the decision, as they feel they own it, but the truth is that in the sizeable majority of any business there will be a proportion of people that will ‘accept’ why the decision has been made, but it might not be their preference.

Thus, a company needs to differentiate between engagement and flat structures.  Flat structures are a natural consequence of an organisation where silos have been broken down and the staff, whichever area they work in day to day, have cross team conversations, where all parties view discussions and meetings between different areas as a chance to get positive input from different viewpoints.  The flat structure comes from team members having natural respect for each other and security in their knowledge, expertise and job role.

I am privileged that my daily role within the speaking industry offers the opportunity to get a chance to meet and listen to many amazing leaders from all kinds of industries and sectors. A common theme I hear, and one that has certainly contributed to my personal management style, is that acceptance of the knowledge that your success is driven by your team will yield better results and create a more positive working environment.  Admitting to yourself and your team that you do not have all the answers is a very powerful tool, rather than a show of weakness. Confessing this and taking this leap is a massive stepping stone for any successful leader. If your team support you and understand that this statement is not a show of weakness, then you know the people around you have your back and your company is ideally positioned to move forward with the right decisions made by the right people.

Too often knowledge sharing is achieved by companies publishing white papers or creating intranets, where each individual department can demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of their specific areas. While systems such as these give reassurance to the other teams within the organisation that each sub-division is comprised of experts in that field, to me, it is not the most effective process. These systems create a culture of passive listening, i.e. the ‘experts’ are always the ones providing the answers, rather than engaging everyone in the conversation. True knowledge sharing only comes where everyone is involved in the conversation and given the opportunity to challenge and question that status quo.

While I work in a sector where we focus on the impact of the keynote speech and its ability to change perceptions, challenge presumptions and encourage the formulation of new ideas, I would suggest that the term ‘keynote speech’ is a misnomer and should always be seen as the start of a conversation. The discussion after the keynote, the open exploration of ideas and the Q&A session is where the real value for all parties can be extracted and where the interesting ‘stuff’ emerges for both the individual and for the company.

This move away from a one-way stream of knowledge sharing to a two-way conversation will encourage a couple of side effects. Firstly, established assumptions or processes will be challenged as the unaware party (for want of a better name) will ask uninhibited questions with no agenda. Secondly, a realisation to both the individual as well as the wider company that the best conversation comes when people have diversity of experience and use this difference to draw solutions to the business problems they are facing.

Both realisations lead to the same conclusion that it is important for businesses to break traditional patterns of thought, in order to move forward and encourage diverse solutions to difficult problems. A company that has promoted this policy really well is Google, and how they actively engage and encourage their employees to use their 20% time – the idea is that you spend 20% of your time working on a project that is not directly aligned with your day to day job but a personal passion of the individual to explore primarily for their own benefit and in the longer term for the benefit of the company. This policy is a reminder that personal development outside of ‘work development’ is no longer a separate activity.  Dedicating time to exterior projects is becoming more valued as it is more and more commonly accepted that the best place to look for inspiration for your business is outside of the sector you are in. Giants such as Amazon, Netflix and John Lewis are setting the benchmark for service and innovation, so it is these organisations that you need to pitch yourself against.

So, giving people space, time and encouragement to do something for themselves can only help and inspire their allegiance and dedication to the company. This doesn’t mean they can’t be challenged about how they can relate their new skills to the company, but they should be asked to share their knowledge as it will foster a comfortable sense of knowledge sharing, breaking down traditional business silos. The final point I would like to touch on, which is absolutely critical, is the need for transparency. This impacts the culture of the business entirely. We live and work in a society where job satisfaction and personal life satisfaction are getting more and more intertwined, as such, a company needs to be open to an individual, not only by investing in them, but by making them aware of the type of company they are part of – through transparency. A company must build trust and security for its employees through a culture of openness and transparency. Businesses should be comfortable in sharing both in good times as well as difficult times. Ultimately, if a business is having issues, surely the best people to pull the company around are the team who can help guide the leadership and direction.

While within itself, transparency has massive positive impact for the culture of trust, it also doubles up as the starkest version of knowledge sharing within a business and thus will set a precedent to the rest of the business of the positive impact of a knowledge sharing culture, that all parties can get involved in.

We live in an age where the workplace and the individual’s engagement within it is increasingly more important to both the success of the company as well as the personal goals of the individual.  A business that embraces a culture of transparency as well as actively encouraging their team to expand their horizons can foster a culture where knowledge sharing is no longer a forced activity but rather a natural part of the conversation. If a company achieves this as part of their culture, they are creating an environment both the company and the individuals can prosper in.

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