Friday, November 30, 2012

6 ways to create a knowledge-sharing culture

No high-growth company will survive by operating in an information silo. Nor will the company grow its business using knowledge from a year ago, a month ago, or even last week. Instead, fast-growing companies must realize the importance of creating a knowledge-sharing culture to foster ideation, ignite innovation, and accelerate change.

Sharing knowledge is a fundamental component of Stroll's corporate culture, which I discussed in a previous post. There are several core ways we foster knowledge sharing, and we wanted to -- you got it -- share them to give you some guidance on building this crucial element into your company's culture.

1. Create cross-functional teams. We foster idea and information sharing across departments, combining our knowledge assets to create more impactful solutions. For example, our IT department frequently works with our marketing department to identify opportunities to improve our campaigns through various programming, layout, and design techniques. In addition, Dave O'Connell, Stroll's Director of Marketing, oversees our call center to ensure our team is properly communicating our messages and developing pitches that resonate with our customers.

2. Configure teams into an organizational flow chart. Our teams are set up like a flow chart. So one team's output becomes the input that another team needs to do its job. For instance, our financial team produces budget reports, which our HR team uses for its staffing plans. This input-output dynamic links our teams tightly together, and heightens individuals' awareness about the activities impacting their job functions.

3. Open team meetings to other staff. As I mentioned in a prior post, all of our departmental meetings are open to everyone in the company so team members can contribute ideas and perspectives that foster our overall growth and success. For example, our HR team could be discussing whether to hire more recruiters in-house or contract a third-party recruitment agency to support the growth we're expecting in the upcoming quarter. Our finance team would then explain the financial considerations of each situation to help us arrive at the most optimal solution.

4. Eliminate the emergence of silos. No team member at Stroll works in a vacuum. Rather, all individuals understand how their actions and duties tie to those of their colleagues, and are well-versed in how the various parts of our business contribute to the whole. This enhanced perspective lets our team members develop solutions that have a better impact on the overall result. Individuals are also able to plug into projects and tasks outside of their core responsibilities, creating a versatile team that can keep our machineries running in case someone is out of pocket.

5. Hold mastermind meetings. Stroll's culture of knowledge sharing extends beyond the four walls of our business. We've developed mastermind meetings where our managers meet with their local, non-competitive industry peers to share insights on trends they're seeing and suggest ideas to solve challenges they're facing. In my case, my mastermind meeting usually involves an HR manager at a large company, a HR generalist at a small company, and an agency recruiter that works with various employers in Philadelphia. Our mastermind meetings are important because we realize that real-world experience is one of the most valuable teachers for helping us perfect our area of craft and be the best at what we do -- one of our core values. In addition, we want to foster good business citizenship by sharing our business insights, while learning from our peers.

6. Supply the "why" of task assignments. All team members understand why every task they're handling is important in the overall success of the project and the company. Our team leaders continuously educate our staff on the benefits of everything we do, and how one task or project impacts other activities. This insight helps individuals understand factors such as how much time to spend on a task and the requirements to complete the task. As a result, team members are highly engaged in their work and more motivated to outperform.

Knowledge is a company's most important asset. But simply having employees who are intelligent and highly skilled does not make an organization smart. Building your company's organizational intelligence relies on your ability to foster people's enthusiasm to share their knowledge. By embedding knowledge-sharing values into your culture, you can create a team that is interlocked with the business and eager to propel the company to new levels of profitability.

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