Have you ever asked: what prevents people from sharing? You’re not the only one. Today at Open Text Content World, Deb Lavoy, director of product marketing at OpenText for Social Workplace, examined How Organizational Culture Impacts ECM Deployments. What we learned may surprise you!

Sharing Isn’t Normal

What does it mean for someone to “know” something? It’s not an easy answer, and it’s not always clear what different people know or if it’s worth letting others know.

Lavoy says that at the core, sharing is about creating mutual resources that everyone or specific group of people can access. When sharing information, chances are it’s in an effort to do great things or avoid catastrophes.

Yet, despite efforts to create communities of practice and hire knowledge managers, creating an environment where sharing is supported is still a complex undertaking. But what we know about sharing and human experiences can help influence the way companies create an environment conducive to sharing.

Influencing Factors: Why We Do & Don’t Share

According to Lavoy, research has shown that two factors influence the performance of human groups:

  1. The social sensitivity demonstrated by members (usually women)
  2. How evenly distributed are contributions of the team

Sometimes when we talk about sharing, we think about the wisdom of crowds -- the collaboration of a group influences what we know. Lavoy doesn’t agree and says that crowds aren’t inherently smart. Instead, it’s the aggregated wisdom of individuals that influences behavior and information shared.

Yet, if we are to embrace sharing, we must first agree on the groundrules:

  • Sharing is about listening
  • Listening is about respect
  • Sharing must be an organic part of what you’re doing

Why We Don’t Share

In the beginning you were either a hoarder or sharer, depending upon how much value there was in knowing what you know. If everyone knew what you did, there was a fear that status would be lost. This belief is still rather wide-spread across the enterprise for people who were able to grow professionally because they knew more than others.

Another reason we don’t share is because of the level of effort required to share. If you are comfortable with the way you currently work, there is relatively little impetus for you to learn and change behaviors. Additionally, people are less likely to want to share if they don’t think there is anything worth sharing and if they presume that there isn’t anyone on the receiving end.

Learning Opportunities

Ultimately, however, a lack of sharing most likely stems from a lack of mutual respect between leaders and followers. Employees must value the contributions of everyone involved.

Why Do People Share?

People like to share when it’s beneficial to them; when they perceive there is value to gain for sharing what they know and when they are in control of sharing. Incentives for sharing rarely work because it assumes that sharing isn’t valued. Before deciding to how to improve knowledge sharing, observe the current state of sharing in your organization. Here’s what to ask:

  • Who shares in your organization?
  • How do you know who is participating?
  • What motivates them to share?
  • What do you share?
  • Who is listening?

Gut Check: Measure Your Organization’s Respect Index

Mutual respect within a organization drives more than you think. When evaluating the way your company works, you must consider how individuals and processes are perceived.

What is the perceived competence of those in charge or contributing information?

  • If it’s not high, sharing is not likely to organically develop. Identify those who are respected and trusted and have them model the behaviors you wish to integrate.

Do people believe that feedback generally makes things better?

  • If asking questions and sharing information create more problems, employees may not see the value in providing feedback.

Like most challenges, there is not a silver bullet for sharing. Instead the key to success is support. Work to promote listening, make sharing effortless and aim to implement and integrate technology that captures work organically.