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: