Monday 21 June 2021

7 cultural barriers to KM, and how to break them

There are many cultural barriers to Knowledge Management implementation, and all of them can be broken

break through
Break Through by Joel Bombardier on Flickr

There are several cultural elements that can stand in the way of successful Knowledge Management. Some of these barriers are listed below, with thoughts on how they may be successfully overcome

Knowledge is power

Despite the real meaning of the term, "knowledge is power", as used nowadays, is the barrier where people fear that sharing knowledge will harm their status. Instead, help people realise that sharing knowledge increases collective power, that being generous with your knowledge helps their status, and that accessing the knowledge of others makes them more effective. Tell them stories like this one to show that hoarding knowledge actually decreases your power and influence. 

Not invented here

"Not invented here" is a symptom of an unwillingness to learn, and there is absolutely no point in creating the best knowledge sharing system if your organization has a learning problem. Set people challenges that they can't solve using solely their own knowledge; drive the desire to learn by pushing them out of their comfort zone. Make sure leaders set the example by not having to have all the answers themselves. Redefine “here”, so “here” could mean “this community” or “this company”, not just “this team”. Then outlaw NIH completely.

Building empires

This is a result of rewarding internal competition, which means that people build silos for personal security and reward. Focus instead on building communities which cross-cut organisational divisions, on removing all incentives for internal competition, and on bridging the silos. Build bigger tribes, and empires that cross the silos.

Individual work bias/Local focus

Here people are incentivised solely by their own contribution, which disinentivises sharing with others. Promote and reward work in teams and communities, and show how this gives better results

Fear of "not knowing"

This is the Knower v Learner issue. Here people are unwilling to look for knowledge from others, in case they appear personally incapable. Help people realise that it is better to look widely for solutions that to rely on your own personal store of knowledge, and that the wisest person asks the most questions. Address the knower behaviours, and turn the knowers into learners.

Penalising errors

Help people learn that mistakes are OK so long as you learn from them and share that learning, and so long as you are not repeating someone else’s mistakes (or even worse, repeating your own). Introduce a just culture, and provide "rubber rooms" where sharing knowledge from mistakes can be done in safety.

No time to share

This is the "busy trap" in KM. Very often people say "we don't have the time for Knowledge Management".  But in fact, it's not a question of time, it's a question of priority. Capturing and sharing and resusing knowledge needs to be seen as part of the job, not an add-on, and just as much a priority as many other management aspects of the way we work.

For an in-depth analysis of the cultural barriers at your organisation, and for further guidance on how to remove them, contact us.

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