Principles and knowledge sharing in organisations

Posted by  Mark Schenk —January 3, 2007
Filed in Strategy

The previous blog contained some reflections on the considerable amout of knowledge strategy work we did in 2006. One of the things mentioned was the establishment of sets of principles (I’m not sure they are principles but it gets us into the right space) to help guide behaviours to improve knowledge sharing. The following list gives an idea of the types of things that have been included in various strategies. Simple statements like these make explicit the types of behaviours that the organisation desires. Importantly, such principles must be customised for each setting and they generally work best when co-created rather than delivered from on high.

  • Encourage questions. Encourage people to ask questions, and recognise them when they do. Create opportunities for open and rigorous dialogue that allows assumptions to be explored and debated.
  • Go to the source. Knowledge deteriorates as it is transmitted through a hierarchy. Wherever possible find the source and have a conversation with them.
  • Share. Share what you know and help others to learn.
  • Relationships. Value relationships and understanding between all divisions and invest in the development of these relationships.

  • Have we done this before? Build on what has been done rather than creating something from the ground up. Managers should ask, ‘have we done this before?’ when approached with ideas and issues.
  • Collaborate. Link up with people outside your area to see if they are doing something your area can use. Form teams to collaborate on projects/tasks.
  • Value diversity. Get new ideas and fresh perspectives into play. Teams work best when the people within them are diverse in both background and approach.
  • Synthesise. Try to combine ideas from different fields.
  • Be approachable. Approachability and accessibility have major impacts on knowledge sharing and communication.All staff, especially senior managers, need to be approachable and ensure all staff have the context they need to be successful in their roles.
  • Learn. Learn before, learn during and learn after. Take time to reflect on what’s happened and discuss this with your colleagues. Learn from experience (actively search for others’ ideas, be willing to discuss failures and be open to feedback). Help others learn and grow. View mistakes and near misses as learning opportunities.
  • Be a team player. Promote cooperation and trust; participate openly and actively in team projects, task forces and networks; uphold the team’s ideas and proposals. Bring credit on yourself by acknowledging the contribution of others.
  • Empathise. Consider things from the perspective of others. When you communicate, remember that people look at events in different ways and the value of your message is determined by the receiver, not by the sender.

Denham Grey also suggested a set of KM Principles some time ago and these are worth a look in addition to the ones listed above. Importantly, don’t try to ‘boil the ocean’ by having a list as long as the one above. Focus on the key few that reflect the core themes of the knowledge strategy.

Are there any additional ‘principles’ that could be included for your organisation?

Mark Schenk About  Mark Schenk

Mark works globally with senior leadership teams to improve their ability to communicate clearly and memorably. He has been a Director of Anecdote since 2004 and helped the company grow into one of the world’s leading business storytelling consultancies. Connect with Mark on:


  1. Dave Simmons says:

    KM Rules of Thumb
    I’ve been in the KM trenches for a few years and have been working on articulating my rules of thumb when developing KM projects. Yours and Denholm’s KM Principles spurred me to share my own.
    These are in no particular order. In the interest in being provocative (and brief), I just wrote the statements without describing.
    Write Once – Use Many Times and Ways
    Eat an Elephant One Bite at a Time
    Plan Convergences Carefully
    Learn and Use Your Institution’s Language of Success
    a. Identify what top brass think is important/valuable knowledge and how they measure it
    b. Build KM Metrics on Goals
    c. Prioritize Info-Flow Problems that are Mission-Critical
    No Time to “Do Over”
    Personalize the Experience of Each Knowledge Worker
    Seek Feedback from All Quarters
    Don’t Set the Interface in Stone – Throw it out there and modify constantly
    Rollouts are overrated. Virally Promote the Projects and Grow Support One User at a Time
    Build Lexicons, Taxonomies, and Dictionaries: They are the Glue that Knowledge Sticks to
    Circle Back Continuously on Usability
    The Most Successful Adoption is Done Quietly Without Force
    The Seemingly Simplest Project May Have the Largest Impact.
    Consider Sustainability Issues When Viewing a Project

  2. There is a lot of wisdom on what you write Dave and thanks for sharing you principles. I particularly like you thoughts on viral, quiet implementations.

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