Knowledge Hoarding: 5 Ways to Encourage Information Sharing

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No matter where you work, you run into people who conceal information from coworkers, albeit sometimes inadvertently. Complete information makes an organization run more smoothly. It saves time. It prevents mistakes and duplication of efforts. It is often critical to good decision making.

So why, at a time when social sharing is rampant, does this happen and how can you change it?

A salesperson enjoys the spotlight after landing a huge contract and isn’t forthcoming with details of his victory. Maybe he doesn’t want to assume others are interested in using his techniques? Or maybe the process was long and complicated and would take time to explain well? Or maybe he feels the pressure of the next deadline and the competitive situation he’s in, and wants to keep his tricks to himself.

Knowledge is power. And sometimes that expression does explain knowledge-hoarding behavior. But here are five primary reasons:

  1. Lack of time. Deadlines, quotas, and workloads could all play a part in an employee’s unwillingness to share information. If the information is complex, sharing can take time. “When the information requested was complicated, employees were more likely to use evasive hiding, offering the excuse that the complex, intricate details couldn’t be properly explained at that moment,” explains the Journal of Organizational Behavior.  
  2. Lack of trust. “The more an employee distrusted the person requesting the information, the more likely they were to hide knowledge from that person,” according to the Journal of Organizational Behavior. Does the employee trust the recipient to use the information discreetly? Will the recipient try out the information or procedure and immediately call attention to its inefficiencies? Once the information is passed, will the original employee be obsolete? Maybe there’s an unintentional competitive situation in place that discourages sharing.
  3. Lack of interest by the recipient. This could be a matter of pride. The person who could gain the most from the information may not be receptive. He or she may want to put their stamp on the issue by finding their own solution. Or they may not consider the source to be reliable.
  4. Lack of awareness. The person with the information may not realize its value to other people in the organization — either in their department or others. It also could be difficult information to share, i.e., unformed ideas and thoughts.
  5. Apathy. You have an unengaged employee who’s not fully on board.

Most would agree that information sharing is beneficial to every organization. But how do we change behavior? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Set aside time to share information. If you want the senior veteran on your team to mentor the newcomer, they need time to do this. If it’s a large amount of information, the person may need help with existing work in order to find time to share.
  2. Celebrate sharing. When sharing happens and there is a positive outcome, recognize the people involved. Give feedback on results generated because of the shared information.
  3. Remove barriers. Review your incentive programs to make sure you’re not motivating people in the wrong direction — by creating too much competition. Revise programs to reward the team when you can.
  4. Challenge knowledge hoarding (and those misusing information entrusted to them). When you identify someone who could be sharing information, confront them in a straightforward, nonthreatening way. Conversely, when an idea happens because of information shared, be sure the credit is shared.
  5. Train people. Find training that will help your team collaborate. In a more general way, professional development gives employees the chance to build skills and boost confidence. This will make them more receptive to sharing.

People are social. They are competitive. They are humble, prideful, and skeptical. And each is unique. Creating programs that both encourage information sharing and challenge employees to stretch is not easy. But there is great value in getting information moving through your organization.  


Agree? Disagree? Add your insightful comments here.