Three-dozen knowledge sharing barriers

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —September 3, 2006
Filed in Strategy

Yesterday I read a paper by Andreas Riege with the title, Three-dozen knowledge sharing barriers managers must consider. It’s a literature review that lists sets of potential knowledge-sharing barriers. The lit review has one major omission I noticed; there is no mention of Gabriel’s Szulanski’s work on knowledge sharing barriers (see references below).

The list is worth having as a ready reference to remind you of things to consider when you are crafting a knowledge strategy. He divides the barriers into three categories: individual, organisational and technological.

Individual knowledge sharing barriers

  • general lack of time to share knowledge, and time to identify colleagues in need of specific knowledge;
  • apprehension of fear that sharing may reduce or jeopardise people’s job security;
  • low awareness and realisation of the value and benefit of possessed knowledge to others;
  • dominance in sharing explicit over tacit knowledge such as know-how and experience that requires hands-on learning, observation, dialogue and interactive problem solving;
  • use of strong hierarchy, position-based status, and formal power (“pull rank”);
  • insufficient capture, evaluation, feedback, communication, and tolerance of past mistakes that would enhance individual and organisational learning effects;
  • differences in experience levels;
  • lack of contact time and interaction between knowledge sources and recipients;
  • poor verbal/written communication and interpersonal skills;
  • age differences;
  • gender differences;
  • lack of social network;
  • differences in education levels;
  • taking ownership of intellectual property due to fear of not receiving just recognition and accreditation from managers and colleagues;
  • lack of trust in people because they misuse knowledge or take unjust credit for it;
  • lack of trust in the accuracy and credibility of knowledge due to the source; and
  • differences in national culture or ethnic background; and values and beliefs associated with it (language is part of this).

Organisational knowledge sharing barriers

  • integration of KM strategy and sharing initiatives into the company’s goals and strategic approach is missing or unclear;
  • lack of leadership and managerial direction in terms of clearly communicating the benefits and values of knowledge sharing practices;
  • shortage of formal and informal spaces to share, reflect and generate (new) knowledge;
  • lack of transparent rewards and recognition systems that would motivate people to share more of their knowledge;
  • existing corporate culture does not provide sufficient support for sharing practices;
  • deficiency of company resources that would provide adequate sharing opportunities;
  • external competitiveness within business units or functional areas and between subsidiaries can be high (e.g. not invented here syndrome);
  • communication and knowledge flows are restricted into certain directions (e.g. top-down);
  • physical work environment and layout of work areas restrict effect sharing practices;
  • internal competitiveness within business units, functional areas, and subsidiaries can be high;
  • hierarchical organisation structure inhibits or slows down most sharing practices; and
  • size of business units often is not small enough and unmanageable to enhance contact and facilitate ease of sharing.

Technological knowledge sharing barriers

  • lack of integration of IT systems and processes impedes on the way people do things;
  • lack of technical support (internal and external) and immediate maintenance of integrated IT systems obstructs work routines and communication flows;
  • unrealistic expectations of employees as to what technology can do and cannot do;
  • lack of compatibility between diverse IT systems and processes;
  • mismatch between individuals’ need requirements and integrated IT systems and processes restrict sharing practices;
  • reluctance to use IT systems due to lack of familiarity and experience with them;
  • lack of training regarding employee familiarisation of new IT systems and processes; and
  • lack of communication and demonstration of all advantages of any new system over existing ones.

Riege, A. (2005). “Three-dozen knowledge-sharing barriers managers must consider.” Journal of Knowledge Management 9(3): 18-35.

Szulanski, G. (1996). “Exploring internal stickiness: Impediments to the transfer of best practice within the firm.” Strategic Management Journal 17: 27-43.

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:


  1. joitske says:

    Just spent 10 years preaching that ‘lack of’ is most of the time not a barrier, but the absence of a solution that you already thought out. In other words: these kind of lists do not help in understanding problems and underlying causes…. (what do you think?)

  2. Louise says:

    I could add to the ‘individual knowledge sharing barriers’ above

    • self doubt about the value of one’s contribution and
    • assuming others already have this knowledge.

    I really relate to the points about gender and age, being of a vintage myself where I hesitate before sharing knowledge to ask myself “is this correct, and is it worth saying?” While sometimes useful, such reticence is a self-inflicted barrier which I’m working to shed.

  3. Companies always hord information.
    11 herbs and spices to the recipe for sodas.
    Why gather and share info if you can’t take it
    with you. With camera phones and video they can
    now take it. Regardless of managment wants.
    Keep the GL, AR and AP seperate and share every
    thing else. Trade secrets and restrictions
    results in other information being hard to get.
    I’ve seen goods received on a po that was not
    available to the receiving department, because
    the po wasn’t opened yet. How dumb. People
    outside the company had more info than the staff
    As a consultant for many years I shared every
    thing I gained on the job. It made me look good
    I kept lots of personal notes at home, otherwise
    I would have had nothing to show for my efforts.
    There is nothing in it for the employee unless
    they get to keep a copy of the information they
    have gathered over the years.

  4. magia3e says:

    I’m always dissapointed at the lack of multidisciplinary approaches to KM. No one ever seems to talk about the psycho-social aspects of knowledge sharing vs. knowledge hoarding.
    Tall-poppy syndrome is a good example of reasons why, in Australia for example, people don’t share knowledge.
    Would be good to see more research and less anecdotal evidence.

  5. John says:

    In central government a self effacing and anonymous attitude is prevelant despite the recent edicts aimed at identifying senior officials. The result is both “I’m not going to raise my head above the parapet” and the “let’s shoot anybody else that tries”.
    However, please can we dispose of the “I haven’t got time” excuse. In reality it is either ‘I’ or ‘my superiors’ do not value knowledge sharing sufficiently to allocate a high priority to the task.

  6. Shawn says:

    Very good point John. I sense from the work I’m doing with government agencies that part of the problem is people being unclear about their objectives which results in a dearth of criteria to prioritise their work. People then just feel overwhelmed and new activities can only be denied because they feel too busy.

Comments are closed.