Brain power

How meaningful work encourages knowledge sharing

Originally posted on The Horizons Tracker.

Sharing knowledge throughout the organization is a crucial aspect of any knowledge-driven business, but some cultures encourage it far more than others. A recent study1 from Curtin University suggests the root of a knowledge sharing culture has to be in giving workers purpose and enjoyment.

The research set out to examine just what it was that motivated people to share knowledge with their peers, or indeed what might motivate them to withhold information, even if it has been explicitly requested.

“Our research found that employees were more likely to share information if they were required to engage in tasks that required them to solve complex problems or process information, or if they had autonomy in their job, meaning they had the power to prioritise their work and use personal initiative when making decisions,” the authors explain.

They were more likely to withhold information however if they felt that there was unequal balance between them and their colleague. For instance, if they felt like the colleague was overly reliant upon them to get their work done, this typically resulted in lower levels of knowledge sharing.

Designing work

The researchers believe that sharing knowledge throughout the workforce is vital to the success of today’s knowledge-driven companies, where jobs are increasingly complex. The ability to innovate and solve challenging problems requires an open sharing of knowledge across the business, and so it’s vital to try and develop a culture that supports such sharing.

“We looked at three ways employees typically avoid sharing knowledge with their colleagues. These included ‘playing dumb’ or pretending they don’t know something, saying they would share information but never getting around to it, or making up an excuse as to why they could not pass on the information,” the authors explain. “Further research is needed to determine what other factors may contribute to why employees are likely to hide information from their team members.”

Of course, trust also plays a part, both in the workplace more generally, but also in terms of facilitating knowledge sharing. A recent paper2 from the Niels Bohr Institute provides a further reminder of just how important trust is. Central to trust is the theory of tit-for-tat, in that we expect others to treat us as we treat them. In a knowledge sharing sense, therefore, we are happy to share knowledge when we’re confident that we’ll receive help when we need it.

This is all part of the culture of an organization, and so it’s vital that a degree of psychological safety is developed as well as one of purpose and engagement. Probably easier said than done, but if you can master it then it’s much more likely that a knowledge sharing business will emerge.

Article source: How Meaningful Work Encourages Knowledge Sharing.


  1. Gagné, M., Tian, A. W., Soo, C., Zhang, B., Ho, K. S. B., & Hosszu, K. (2019). Different motivations for knowledge sharing and hiding: The role of motivating work design. Journal of Organizational Behavior.
  2. Bendtsen, K. M., Uekermann, F., & Haerter, J. O. (2016). Expert Game experiment predicts emergence of trust in professional communication networks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(43), 12099-12104.
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Adi Gaskell

I'm an old school liberal with a love of self organizing systems. I hold a masters degree in IT, specializing in artificial intelligence and enjoy exploring the edge of organizational behavior. I specialize in finding the many great things that are happening in the world, and helping organizations apply these changes to their own environments. I also blog for some of the biggest sites in the industry, including Forbes, Social Business News, Social Media Today and, whilst also covering the latest trends in the social business world on my own website. I have also delivered talks on the subject for the likes of the NUJ, the Guardian, Stevenage Bioscience and CMI, whilst also appearing on shows such as BBC Radio 5 Live and Calgary Today.

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