The anti-silo philosophy - How do you avoid knowledge silos?

Establishing the framework for formal knowledge transfer

Are you wondering how to successfully set up formal knowledge transfer? What steps should a company take to ensure that it actually works and that employees collaborate effectively to establish efficient knowledge transfer? 

Implementing knowledge management can revolutionize the way departments collaborate, breaking down boundaries and uncovering shared interests as well as differences within the organization. These transformative changes have the power to permanently shift the corporate culture, presenting a significant opportunity for growth. By creating synergies, streamlining processes, and enhancing customer satisfaction, you can unlock the full potential of your organization. 

However, the success of a knowledge management project is not guaranteed. The reason being, it has a profound impact on the underlying corporate culture. In organizations where formal knowledge transfer is not highly valued, barriers are erected and power dynamics based on knowledge become entrenched. This leads to the formation of silos within departments and divisions. Fortunately, with the implementation of a robust knowledge management system, these silos can be partially dismantled. 

And I'm not just referring to traditional barriers like locked file cabinets and experts hoarding knowledge. Siloed knowledge can exist even in modern organizations with flat hierarchies, paperless offices, and casual break room environments. These barriers can be deeply ingrained in the norms and values of your corporate culture, which may not be immediately apparent.

Examining cultural levels: Insights from E. Schein

On a separate note, the number of levels within a culture can vary according to different theories. To provide a reference, let's consider the insights of E. Schein1, who identifies three distinct levels:

  1. The visible level entails engaging in rituals and legends, such as the reverence for a select few seasoned colleagues who incessantly gripe about the workload on their desks but make no effort to rectify the situation.
  2. Collective values encompass a shared understanding of ethical principles and a strategic mindset, such as the belief that certain information should remain confidential despite the tendency for informal conversations to inadvertently disclose it.
  3. Basic assumptions, attitudes towards time, relationships with others, understanding of human nature, and the dynamics of interpersonal relationships. These are the aspects of our corporate culture that are deeply ingrained and often taken for granted. They shape how we operate and interact, making them challenging topics to address openly. For example, the willingness to accept mistakes, the balance between trust and control, the preference for hierarchy or individualism, and the distinction between being and acting. These are the underlying factors that influence our behavior and decision-making.

Cultural transformation: Moving beyond surface complaints

Critiques about the first and second levels may highlight how simple it is to voice dissatisfaction at the surface level. However, true cultural transformation occurs at a deeper level, where complexities and nuances come into play. At this point, there is no room for mere complaints because the situation is no longer black and white. While the concepts of hierarchy and control may not initially seem appealing, envisioning a company filled with staunch individualists devoid of any hierarchies raises intriguing questions.

Therefore, in order to achieve successful and long-lasting knowledge transfer, it is crucial to examine and assess your corporate culture. While you could embark on a massive cultural change project that would span years, that is not the approach I am proposing. I understand that you do not want to wait years to begin sharing knowledge.

Strategic considerations for formal knowledge transfer

Take advantage of the opportunities presented by implementing a knowledge management system? It's remarkable how a simple deployment can ignite a series of positive changes. As you begin to witness the transformative effects, you'll gain valuable insights into your corporate culture. This newfound understanding will make it easier for you to navigate the intricacies of implementing formal knowledge transfer. By delving deeper into why your employees behave the way they do, you'll be equipped to make informed decisions that will benefit your organization.

Furthermore, it is essential to carefully consider the knowledge that holds significance for your business. Take a moment to reflect on where this knowledge is currently being stored and why it is located there. To kickstart the formal knowledge transfer process, assemble a project team that encompasses a diverse range of employees. Together, determine which knowledge should be made universally accessible and to whom. It is crucial to establish boundaries and consider which information should be accessible to specific individuals. In some cases, no boundaries may be required at all. As you encounter barriers similar to the ones mentioned earlier, take this as a sign that a decision needs to be made. How quickly can these barriers be dismantled? Are there concerns about the visibility of data in the new database? Or perhaps individuals are apprehensive about job security? Explore various options to eliminate these barriers or find effective workarounds. When forming your project team, be sure to include individuals who may have doubts or are new to the organization. Their perspectives can provide valuable insights that might otherwise be overlooked.

Paving the way: Successful introduction of formal knowledge transfer

Once you have completed this process, you will have successfully paved the way for the introduction of formal knowledge transfer. The next steps will depend on the knowledge management solution you have selected, ideally one that aligns with the principles I have outlined in this post and the previous one, fostering an anti-silo philosophy.

Carefully consider the individuals you select for your project team, as doubters and newcomers can provide valuable perspectives that might otherwise be overlooked. Once your team is assembled, conduct detailed knowledge mapping to determine which topics should be included and which ones should be excluded. Don't forget to seek feedback to ensure you haven't overlooked anything important.

By following these steps, you have successfully paved the way for the introduction of formal knowledge transfer. The next steps will depend on the knowledge management solution you have chosen. Ideally, it should align with the principles outlined in this post and the previous one, promoting an anti-silo philosophy and facilitating effective collaboration and knowledge sharing.

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1. Edgar H. Schein (1985) Organizational Culture and Leadership, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass in Emmanuel Ogbonna (abridged from E. Ogbonna, Managing organisational culture: fantasy or reality, Human Resource Management Journal, 3, 2 (1993), pp. 42-54 in Jon Billsberry (ed.) The Effective Manager, Open University, Milton Keynes 1997).

Hendrik Buske

Written by Hendrik Buske

For Hendrik Buske, Customer Service Management is not only a job, it is his passion. For years he has supported and transformed the customer experience management and cusomter service strategies in leading service organizations. It comes as no surprise that he - trained industrial engineer that he is - sooner or later found his way into the field of Customer Service Management in the software industry. At Serviceware, he deploys his knowledge and vigor to support strategic developments for Customer Service Management products.

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