36 Knowledge Sharing Barriers

I have developed a number of Knowledge Management (KM) strategies for various clients over the past 11 or so years, and was recently asked to revamp and update the KM strategy for a large public sector organization that had undergone a fairly radical restructure. Previous experience of working with public sector clients told me that no matter how radical the restructure; the basic hierarchical nature of the organization would remain (flattening of structures doesn’t come naturally to public sector organizations). And where you have several layers of hierarchy you also have the potential for mis-communication, silo’d working practices and generally poor knowledge sharing. In fact, nearly all of the conditions that would work in opposition to establishing an effective KM strategy.

Incidentally, for anyone put off by ‘KM jargon”, I should explain that the definition of ‘KM’ for the strategy I’m referring to is “organisational and personal learning and sharing”.

With these points in mind, I thought I would do a bit of research into the most common barriers to knowledge sharing, and actually include these in the final strategy paper. That way the business sponsor and senior managers tasked with implementing the KM strategy could audit their existing practices with a view to identifying and perhaps predicting the sources of resistance or ‘drag’ and plan accordingly. Remembering of course that KM is not something that you ‘do’ to people. You need to take the people in the organisation with you on this journey and for them to see the benefits of knowledge sharing for themselves.

The following is a list of 36 knowledge-sharing barriers, based on an academic paper by Andreas Riege (Riege, A. 2005. “Three-dozen knowledge-sharing barriers managers must consider.” Journal of Knowledge Management 9(3): 18-35)

The list gives some indication of the complexity of knowledge sharing as a value-creating organisational activity and is divided 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;
  • lack of communication and demonstration of all advantages of any new system over existing ones.

For anyone tasked with either developing or implementing a KM (knowledge sharing) strategy, a good starting point would be to use this list to audit the current practice and thereby determine where the most effort is required, and if possible, where the most value can be created (i.e. biggest bang for the buck).

I hope readers will find this post useful. I will be happy to answer any questions on developing and implementing knowledge sharing strategies.

Stephen Dale

Director, Collabor8now Ltd.

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