Some Video Advice from Two Companies On Using Online Communities of Practice
What Type Are You?

How Do You Create a Culture of Sharing?

Yesterday I shared a couple of videos on real-life, online communities of practice. In comments, LaDonna Coy asks an excellent question:

I really appreciate this post. I've been looking for some good examples of communities of practice and here's two that are spot on. Thank you. I'm particularly taken by the sharing culture concept that Dave talks about and Rio Tinto does in practice. In my line of work we'd call it a collaborative culture.

There's a lot of organizations that simply do not have such a culture for a variety of reasons whether silo boundaries, competitiveness or perhaps simply the habit of working locally (co-located) but not connecting beyond in this sharing culture kind of way. I'm wondering if you have examples of companies or organizations that shifted the culture to one of sharing and how they may have seeded the shift?

By coincidence (or perhaps serendipity), Stewart Mader blogged today about an article I had bookmarked awhile ago on how to create a "know-it-all" company. In addition to some excellent real-life examples, it has a few tips that get at LaDonna's question: 

  • Show personal ROI--how will knowledge-sharing help people do a better job or build their own skills?  Communicate this to people, even in the most competitive environments, and they're more likely to start sharing.
  • Hire the right people--look for staff that want to share and that understand the sharing culture. Find people who talk about "we" instead of "I" and who tell stories about shared accomplishments rather than what they alone achieved. Probe specifically for examples of collaboration and knowledge-sharing that wasn't mandated.
  • "Keep it real"--Related to point number 1, the article recommends focusing on nurturing communities around business needs. I would add, though, that there's much to be gained from allowing people to form their own communities based on their interests, etc. Although I think that organizations can certainly provide tools and guidance, if they hold people only to forming communities around "business needs," they're going to miss out on communities that might foster other kinds of relationships or future innovation.
  • Recognize contributors--the most powerful incentive to sharing and creating a community is peer recognition. Find ways to acknowledge the contributions of those who share.
  • Use a range of strategies, including face-to-face--technology is obviously a fabulous tool for nurturing communities of practice, so look at ways you can tie together different tools. How can you use blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, Twitter, forums, social networks, etc. to provide people with a variety of ways to share. But don't forget the power of face-to-face. Find ways to bring people physically together to share knowledge and form stronger community bonds.

What are other ways to nurture a culture of sharing within an organization? How can we create a foundation for building communities of practice? Do you have any real-life examples of how you can move an organization from a culture of competition or knowledge-hoarding to one that generously shares?


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I think also that the "sharing" culture starts at the top. If top management share with the "foot soldiers" and create a level of trust between workers, management, and customers, you are more apt to have a sharing culture. However, when the information that you use is then appropriated for top management benefits or used against those at the bottom, you are less likely to have a sharing culture.

I wonder also if the current trend of high CEO and executive pay with deep pay cuts and lay offs at the bottom level hasn't created a culture of "hording" information. When resources aren't evenly dispursed, then resources (including information) are horded as future back-up.

Two good points, Virginia and I tend to agree with you that the culture of hoarding may be created by the current gaps in resources in many companies. There does seem to be a focus in many places on getting people to share as a way to make it easier for those who stay when the layoffs come.

And if that's the case, Michele, why would I want to make it easier for the company that lays me off by sharing before I go?

You're absolutely right, Virginia. This is actually a personal difficulty I have in trying to balance supporting individual learning vs. organizational learning. Many companies are obviously not doing knowledge-sharing as part of a larger culture of positive relationships with employees, so how do you reconcile that with individual interests and needs? We're in a difficult climate right now of distrust, which is clearly antithetical to sharing.

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