When the communication and sharing of knowledge runs seamlessly in the workplace, a sense of community is created, and employee engagement can prosper. In this multi-part blog, we’re taking a closer look at some of the common barriers to effective knowledge sharing in organisations and how to overcome them through the lens of three different perspectives; the source, the information, and the audience.
Part 1: Finding the root cause of a problem
Part 2: The Source
⠀⠀⠀a) "Sharing information is challenging when away from the office"
⠀⠀⠀b) "Information is stockpiled for the next weekly report"
⠀⠀⠀c) "Knowledge is only shared in infrequent meetings"*
Part 3: The Information
⠀⠀⠀a) "It’s a mess - Information is unorganized and uncategorized"*
⠀⠀⠀b) "Data is siloed in individual teams"*
Part 4: The Audience
⠀⠀⠀a) "Too much data leads to information overload"*
⠀⠀⠀b) "Working remotely breaks down communication channels"*
Part 5: The importance of effective knowledge sharing for your organisation*
*coming soon ✍️ ⏳
An Organisation’s Success Depends on Well-Rounded Communication
At its best, an organisation’s many components work together like a well-oiled machine. Most companies understand the significance of effectively communicating with their customers and partners, but problems arise when it comes to handling internal communication. These functions, which are can be neglected and mishandled, play a crucial role in harnessing relationships and improving employee engagement.
Communication truly sits at the heart of any productive activity that takes place within an organisation, and when one gear within the machine stops working properly, the entire organisation is at risk of failure.
The lone genius fallacy is a perfect example. While most people believe it is the work of single geniuses who move us forward by innovating and creating successful products and services, “genuine scientific progress is usually collaborative". True advancement lies in teamwork, and effective teamwork requires communication, motivation to contribute, and familiarity with those around you and their expertise.
Due to the positive externalities it can create, improving communication within an organisation is a gift that never stops giving. In these uncertain and rapidly changing times, employees need transparent, succinct, and consistent information from both leadership and their colleagues. Focusing on providing this can advance your company and help you survive any difficult times.
Part 1: Finding the Root Cause of a Problem
Properly Identifying the Source of a Problem is More Than Half the Battle
As with any problem rooted in human process and behaviour, there are countless reasons why your company might be facing issues surrounding communication and the sharing of information. To have the capability to eliminate a problem though, you must first identify the root cause. Without that, you’re just shooting in the dark and patching up symptoms, and this will only offer temporary respite. If you’re having trouble properly identifying the source of your problems though, it turns out you are not alone.
A Harvard Business Review study found that whilst many executives are good at problem-solving, 85% of them agreed that their organisations struggled with problem diagnosis. The reason for this disconnect is because many managers switch into solution mode too quickly. Before a solution can be properly identified, the entire problem must be outlined and understood.
Properly and effectively targeting the root cause of a problem can feel overwhelming, especially if the problem is multifaceted and affects several different areas of the organisation. That’s why we’re outlining two powerful methods, designed to be instantly applied to your daily process, to help you get the job done. These techniques allow you to consider problems from multiple perspectives and can help you uncover the barriers to knowledge sharing in your organisation.
The ‘Five Whys’
The Five Whys technique is an innovative problem-solving tool that asks the same question (Why?) over and over again to identify the root cause of that problem. This method explores the confusing and twisted relationship between cause and effect, seeking to identify the human error behind each problem. The Five Whys technique is extremely beneficial for helping to solve persistent issues and can help business teams identify the root cause of a problem quickly and efficiently.
The original example of the Five Whys, given by Taiichi Ohno of Toyota when he introduced the in-house concept to the public, goes as follows:
1. “Why did the robot stop?”
⠀The circuit has overloaded, causing a fuse to blow.
2. “Why is the circuit overloaded?”
⠀There was insufficient lubrication on the bearings, so they locked up.
3. “Why was there insufficient lubrication on the bearings?”
⠀The oil pump on the robot is not circulating sufficient oil.
4. “Why is the pump not circulating sufficient oil?”
⠀The pump intake is clogged with metal shavings.
5. “Why is the intake clogged with metal shavings?”
⠀Because there is no filter on the pump.
In this scenario, the symptom at each level could have been remedied with a quick fix; change the fuse, lube the bearings etc. However, the point of the exercise is to avoid patching symptoms and look deeper into the issue. Of course, the issue at each level will need to be rectified, but by digging down to discover the lack of filter as the root cause, will prevent reoccurrence of the wider issue going forward.
Since being introduced by Toyota in the 1950’s, the process has been widely adopted and developed by many business frameworks and ideologies.
- The Six Sigma methodology (developed by the engineer, Bill Smith, at Motorola, and made central to Jack Welch’s business strategy at General Electric) incorporated the Five Whys in its techniques for process improvement, more specifically, the analyse phase of the DMAIC framework.
- More recently, Eric Ries, the creator of the lean startup methodology, incorporated the Five Whys into his lessons and workshops focusing the practice on issues often encountered by tech startups; which are frequently, but not limited to, software development problems.
Read more about the 5 Whys, including the steps to implement within your organisation:
The 'Reframing' Technique
Another powerful technique for your toolbox is the ability to reframe the problem that you’re facing to look at it from multiple different perspectives. This method often provides a clearer, more creative path to success, and can help solve persistent problems. One of the greatest examples of reframing can be seen through the events that led to the marriage of elevators and mirrors in the book Turning Learning Right Side Up by Russell Ackoff and Daniel Greenberg.
The story takes place in New York, where occupants in an office building were unhappy with the elevator service. At peak hours of the day, wait times were incredibly long, and tenants were threatening to break their lease and move somewhere else. In response, the management team launched a full investigation to determine the best solution. Unfortunately, they were told, the age of the building made any engineering solution too expensive for justification. The problem simply could not be solved.
In a desperate attempt to keep his tenants happy, the building manager called an emergency meeting among the staff in hopes that someone had a suggestion to improve elevator performance. One recently hired young man, a graduate in personnel psychology, simply couldn’t understand the fuss over tenants waiting for just a few minutes.
“Why,” he asked, “are they complaining about just a few minutes wait?”
The only logical conclusion, in his mind, was that the tenants must have been growing bored during their wait time. And the young employee suggested a solution to that problem. Installing mirrors in the elevator boarding areas would allow people to look at themselves and those around them while they waited, hopefully occupying their time and keeping them happy.
With no other option, the manager took the suggestion. The mirrors were installed quickly, and at a very low cost! And surprisingly, the complaints stopped. The solution was so groundbreaking and so innovative that surrounding buildings quickly followed suit. And today, elevator lobbies, waiting areas, and elevators themselves still have mirrors everywhere.
Reframing does not necessarily mean the original framing was wrong.
It’s important to realise that suggesting you reframe the problem you’re facing does not mean the initial framing was wrong. In this method, you’re not working to find the “real” problem, but instead, see if you can solve a different one in a better way. The idea that there is only one single root problem could be misleading and cause you to skip over other effective, more efficient solutions.
Ripping out the entire elevator in the example above, and installing a new one, would have probably worked to stop the complaining. It wasn’t the most ideal solution though and approaching the problem with a reframed point of view allowed for another solution that was easier, cheaper, and potentially even more effective.
You can find more details about reframing, including the seven best practices here:
When approaching a problem, most people are so focused on identifying the solution that they never properly understand the problem itself. It’s important to gather our teams, talk about our problems, and approach them in innovative and creative ways to recognise the best solution.
Methods like the ‘Five Whys’ and ‘Reframing’ encourage us to spend more time considering the intricacies of a problem rather than forming premature conclusions and moving on to solution design. The additional time committed will pay dividends in the form of more effective and robust solutions. In the words of the old Russian proverb, “Measure twice, cut once”.
What are the barriers to effective knowledge sharing in organisations?
Next, in Part 2, we analyse some of the root causes of ineffective knowledge sharing from the perspective of the source of information and explore solutions to overcome these. We’ll start by looking at the challenge of sharing information on the go and the complications that follow a mobile workforce.