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All organizations have cultures i.e., the sets of norms and values which collectively guide the behavior of their employees. Culture varies considerably between organizations and is a significant differentiating factor between firms. Within an organization, culture is a powerful force as well, obviating the need for many rules since it encourages employees to behave in certain ways. Culture is neither good nor bad but may foster values and behaviors which support or impede certain organizational objectives. A “knowledge-sharing culture” is believed to be inherently good because of the growing importance of intellectual capital to organizations and the need for effective knowledge management practices (Gupta & Govindarajan, 2000). In modern organizations, increasing interdependencies between jobs and the information explosion resulting from interconnectivity and rapid change, mean that many people have pieces of solutions and no one knows it all (Stauffer, 1999). Therefore, cultures which inhibit knowledge-sharing are widely-held to be significant barriers to creating and leveraging knowledge assets. Instilling a knowledge-sharing culture is thus a necessary prerequisite for companies which believe that it is a significant way to differentiate themselves.
In order to explore the characteristics of a knowledge-sharing culture and how one can be nurtured and developed, Queen’s University’s Centre for Knowledge-Based Enterprises convened a day-long focus group of practicing senior knowledge managers from a variety of industries in the United States and Canada. They were asked to explore several questions,including:
- What is your definition/understanding of a “knowledge-sharing” culture? How would you recognize one?
- Would you say that you have a knowledge-sharing culture within your organization?
- What strategies has your organization adopted to instill a knowledge-sharing culture?
- How successful have these strategies been?
- Have you tried some things that have not worked?
- What are the benefits of a knowledge-sharing culture?
- How long does it take to instill knowledge-sharing as part of the organizational way of life?
In addition, participants were asked to address any other factors and to bring any corporate documents which they considered relevant to this topic. This paper combines their ideas and experiences with research from the academic and practitioner literature to create an overview of the issues and practices which are most important to developing a knowledgesharing culture. First, it looks at what we know about corporate culture and how it operates in organizations. Then, the characteristics of a knowledge-sharing culture are discussed. Next, cultural change and the factors which specifically nurture a culture of knowledgesharing are explored. Fourth, knowledge-sharing behaviors and the key factors which motivate or inhibit them are examined. Finally, we identify some practices which have worked to promote knowledge-sharing in other organizations.