22 July 2016

From silo to potluck: how to share tacit knowledge with your workforce

This is Bill.

Bill is a star performer and leader at his workplace.

Bill imparts everything he knows about being successful to everyone in his company.

Be like Bill.


Bill possesses knowledge that, if everyone also owned, could catapult the organisation into the forefront of innovation and achievement in their industry.

We utilise Bill here as a conceptual device. The problem is that a lot of what Bill knows is tacit, not explicit, and cannot easily be articulated, put down on paper, codified, accessed or verbalised, and thus transmitted to others.

Tacit knowledge is the seed of innovation, and a competitive advantage precisely because it it hard to copy and steal.

Successful knowledge sharing has been shown to increase sales by 15%, reduce training time by 66%, improve retail customer conversions by 6%, and save $2 million in manufacturing costs.

If your organisation could maximise the internal sharing of valuable tacit knowledge, the benefits to your business can be wide ranging.

How do you do it?

  1. Be selective. Identify knowledge that is better than what the organisation collectively knows—or demonstrates it knows based on current results.
  2. Get buy-in. The learners need to agree that it is knowledge worth learning, and have the capability of learning it. No matter how enthusiastic, top down directives to learners who don’t deem the new knowledge worthy of acquiring give you the proverbial problem of leading the horse to water but not being able to make it drink.
  3. Promote socialisation. Allow regular positive interaction to create trust, safety, open communication and dialogue.

More on socialisation

Ironically, what some may think are time wasters not directly related to work are precisely the mechanisms that could nurture the successful sharing of tacit knowledge.

Facilitate interaction. Provide your workforce or team members with informal ways to interact, supported by the events, space and technology to do so, and share the attitude that a little chaos is okay because it encourages experimentation and creative problem solving. When your workforce is supported by the leadership’s attitude that mistakes and failing are ‘on the way’, and not ‘in the way’ of success, it opens up the space for innovation.

Encourage mentoring. This facilitates the transfer of tacit knowledge—through formal coaching programs and apprenticeships, or simply and powerfully through mere conversation. The latter is possible when the organisation encourages and rewards a collaborative spirit, effective communication and mutually supportive dialogue.

The next time you wish you could clone your star performers, including yourself, know that you could work towards it, through transferring valuable tacit knowledge. Gaining rapport precedes effective influencing. Also know that valuable knowledge comes in various forms, and everyone has gems to share, not just star performers.

In so doing, you break through the silo mentality (of individuals being protective of what they know and keeping it close to their chest because they think it gives them an edge) and allow the sharing of a veritable potluck of delicious and nourishing ideas from everyone in your workforce to fuel innovation.

Bon appétit!