Peer learning and knowledge sharing

What is ‘knowledge sharing’ and why is it important?

Knowledge sharing is defined by organizations that have processes in place to exchange critical information across the workforce. Organizations that do it really well have a culture of knowledge where employees are encouraged to share what they know with others instead of hoarding it. Team leaders, here's everything you need to know about knowledge sharing, its benefits, and how to encourage it in your company.

Nathan Goldstein

Co-founder of Together

Published on 

December 22, 2021

Updated on 

Time to Read

mins read time

What's the value of getting everyone on the same page? Well, consider the incredible innovations of the 20th and 21st centuries. Movies will tell you it was a lone innovator. In reality, it was the outcome of getting a lot of smart people rowing in the same direction.

That's the essence of knowledge sharing.

But because of the movies, knowledge sharing doesn't get the credit it deserves. Likewise, spreading knowledge across a workforce is only a recent phenomenon:

  • In the industrial age, to get everyone rowing in the same direction, you needed clear directions and an autocratic manager to keep everyone in line.
  • In the 21st century, things have changed. Knowledge workers need understanding, context, insight, and information to drive innovation.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

In this guide, you'll get the run down on knowledge sharing, specifically how to disperse critical knowledge to the people who need it. You'll learn the benefits, see examples, and have the opportunity to start encouraging a knowledge sharing culture at your organization.

eBook How To Fast-Track Employee Learning With Colleague Connections  

A brief introduction to knowledge sharing (from the military)

Before we dive into the article, you need to watch this 7 minute Ted Talk by Stanley McChrystal, the former commander of U.S. and International forces in Afghanistan. If you don't have 7 minutes click the video below to start at 4:40. When you do note what he says. It perfectly sums up the purpose of knowledge sharing:

"You find that information is only of value if you give it to people who have the ability to do something with it. The fact that I know something has zero value if I'm not the person who can actually make something better because of it...instead of knowledge is power...sharing is power."

What is knowledge sharing?

Knowledge sharing refers to the process of exchanging information between people, teams, or organizations. This knowledge may be explicit, which comes from documents or procedures, or tacit, meaning it was developed from experience. Sharing knowledge has benefits for the sharer as well as the recipient. It can create understanding, a feeling of importance, and even help employees grow their leadership skills.

Benefits for businesses that encourage knowledge sharing include becoming more agile and adaptable. Employees engaging in knowledge sharing can develop more effective and streamlined procedures and processes. An employee handbook can be a great way to start. It can also help cultivate a more loyal and productive workforce.

Knowledge sharing is related to knowledge transfer. But knowledge transfer is specifically about how to work out a plan to get critical know-how from employees who are leaving to those who are staying. Organizations should always have a plan for keeping tacit knowledge within their company.

Why is knowledge sharing important in the workplace?

The global pandemic caused waves of disruption to organizations, economies and the world. To meet the challenges, organizations will need to adjust, and it’s not all about developing remote or hybrid workplaces.

Companies will need to focus more on internal development and mobility. According to the LinkedIn report, internal hiring has increased by 19 percent since 2019. Moreover, employees who are given an opportunity for internal mobility stay twice as long as those who aren’t promoted. When you make a new hire, it’s wise to provide knowledge sharing opportunities to equip them for internal job opportunities. Allowing your new hire the chance to share their knowledge and learn from others creates connection as well as a skilled workforce.

Your younger workers are hyper-focused on learning and growth opportunities. Gen Z employees watch 50 percent more learning content than your other employees. Seventy-six of them believe learning is the key to success. To prepare future leaders in your organization, give them a chance to learn from more experienced employees and senior leadership.

Knowledge sharing also improves your remote teams’ performance and wellbeing. Many employees who work from home struggle with collaboration and communication with team members. It’s one of the top problems identified in Buffer’s State of Remote Work report. Twenty percent of those surveyed identified collaboration as a significant issue for remote work. You can overcome collaboration and communication challenges by encouraging more knowledge sharing among employees and remote teams.

Breaking down silos and democratizing tacit know-how

Research has found that knowledge sharing benefits everyone, from your employees to your executives.

One of the key benefits of encouraging knowledge sharing is democratizing learning. By getting subject matter experts together with other employees, you can increase the collective knowledge of the organization. And the collective knowledge will be of best practices and the right way to do things. This is a great way for organizations to get everyone on the same page. And this will reflect in your employees’ attitudes at work and towards your company.

One study found that 94 percent of employees have said they’ll stay at a company longer if there is a learning opportunity. This rings particularly true for younger employees, with 27 percent of Gen Z or Millennials saying they would leave a job if there were no opportunities to learn.

Which employees need to participate in knowledge sharing?

Before embarking on knowledge sharing opportunities for your employees, you need to be clear on what they have to gain. It all begins with understanding who will be involved.

  • New hires need knowledge sharing to ramp up in their new role. One-on-one mentorships and peer mentoring are two great ways to help your new hire fit in, learn the ropes, and build connections. Knowledge sharing is key for a great onboarding experience.
  • Future leaders don’t often get the training they need to be great leaders. Knowledge sharing and mentorship can set them up for success. They’ll learn vital skills and tips to help them meet the challenges they’ll face. It is also a crucial ingredient to any succession plan.
  • Remote workers face challenges around feeling a part of a team and having informal learning opportunities. Connecting with other team members or leaders through knowledge sharing activities can fill this gap. An MIT article encourages organizations to institute water cooler calls “that can reveal experiences and ideas that otherwise would have remained unexpressed — and keep team members connected on a personal level.”
eBook Starting a peer mentorship program

Benefits of knowledge sharing

Employers and employees have a lot to gain from knowledge sharing. Here are some of the main advantages of encouraging it in your organization.

Increase employee engagement

Research has shown that employees love to learn. Offering access to learning opportunities is one of the top ways to increase employee engagement.  This is particularly true for younger workers who demonstrate a commitment to learning.  

Aids employee learning and development

Employees who connect through social learning activities are more successful in retaining what’s learned. Essentially, we learn better when we’re together. And information that is retained is there to be used. In other words, when your employees are able to remember what they’ve learned and use it, you’ll get a more efficient and effective workplace. Yet, many organizations still insist on using solitary study methods like coursework, quizzes, surveys, etc. Social learning is the key that can unlock a more skilled workforce.

Builds a learning culture

Learning cultures make employee development a priority. They demonstrate their commitment to employee growth and learning by providing growth opportunities through mentoring, training classes, and knowledge sharing. Organizations that build a learning culture encourage employees to spend time on development and knowledge sharing activities. That’s because they understand the more employees learn, the more productive and effective they are.

Retain critical tacit knowledge

Tacit knowledge is information that is learned through experience and not through printed documentation, such as policies or procedures. However, it is no less valuable to an organization. It can even be used to redefine processes or procedures in some cases. Yet, unless knowledge sharing opportunities are present in an organization, tacit knowledge can be lost when those with that critical information leave the company.

Examples of workplaces that encourage knowledge sharing

Workplaces that encourage knowledge sharing have done so in different ways, and each has unlocked employee development that has been a boon to their businesses. Here are just two examples of organizations that have encouraged knowledge sharing successfully.

Cooley is a global law firm with 1,500 lawyers, and because their legal work is complicated, they need to have the most talented minds in play. They leverage knowledge sharing by pairing up new lawyers with more experienced ones. Doing this has made their onboarding faster and more effective, bringing new hires up to speed quickly. The experience allows mentors to provide insight that helps younger lawyers learn what they need to do at a much faster rate than on-the-job learning or formal training program. It’s one of the reasons why 95 percent of their employees say it is a great place to work.

Cruise Automation, a self-driving car manufacturer, needs to share niche engineering knowledge about autonomous vehicles. To democratize this knowledge and encourage all engineers to come up with innovative ideas, they pair up their engineering team for monthly meetings to discuss ideas. They’ve found that this knowledge sharing opportunity also prepares employees for internal promotion. Participants of their program noted it allowed employees of all levels and skills to learn from each other.

Make knowledge sharing a part of your organization with mentorship

Sharing knowledge within an organization offers several significant advantages. From employee development to succession planning to reducing turnover, offering knowledge sharing opportunities in your workplace can lead to excellent results and changes.

Employers can encourage knowledge sharing in a variety of ways. One of the more effective ways is mentorship. It’s why over 70 percent of Fortune 500 companies offer mentoring programs for their employees. Knowledge sharing can take different forms, such as:

Book a demo to see how Together's mentorship software makes knowledge-sharing easy and quick.

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