This article was making the rounds yesterday via Twitter. It is a really interesting article from McKinsey, which starts with the observation that, in Intelligence groups in the USA, "the single strongest predictor of group effectiveness was the amount of help that analysts gave to each other".
The article goes on to discuss this culture, and draws on several studies to conclude that "Across these diverse contexts, organizations benefit when employees freely contribute their knowledge and skills to others". The authors go on to talk about a Giver culture, where knowledge is freely shared, and a Taker culture, where it isn't*. Taker cultures often dominate in organisations, through overt or hidden forms of internal competition, even though Giver cultures are significantly more successful in business terms. The article talks about how Giver culture can be introduced, rewarded, and modelled by leadership.
However a little deeper in the article, we find that Giving (exchange of knowledge) is not a cultural norm in itself, it is a response to something else.
"Giver cultures depend on employees making requests; otherwise, it’s difficult to figure out who needs help and what to give. In fact, studies reviewed by psychologists Stella Anderson and Larry Williams show that direct requests for help between colleagues drive 75 to 90 percent of all the help exchanged within organizations".Giving is a Response to Asking.
What we see in the successful cultures, is a behaviour of Asking, which prompts a Giving/Helping response.
It is possible to develop an Asker culture - the article talks about an exercise called a Reciprocity Ring, which is a face to face version of the Question-driven communities of practice we see operating so successfully as part of mature knowledge management programs. Peer Assist is the archetypal Asker process, which always generates a Giver response. Many of the standard Knowledge Management interventions act as culture change agents in their own right to promote the behaviours of asking and of giving.
So if you are interested in creating a "culture of Knowledge Sharing" - a Giver culture, that "single strongest predictor of group effectiveness" - remember that Giving is (75% to 90% of the time) a response to Asking.
Try creating an Asker culture first (as I suggest in this video).
*I don't really like the terms "Giving" and "Taking" here - all exchange of knowledge requires a giver and a taker. The question is, what prompts and supports the interaction between the two, and who takes the first step.