Silly as it sounds, within any professional partnership, knowledge-sharing is caring.
When it comes to your professional partnerships, how do you view knowledge? Is it something that you hoard for yourself in an attempt to gain some kind of advantage over your partners? Or is it something you share in an attempt to build trust and fuel productivity?
Your attitudes toward knowledge-sharing will go a long way in predicting the lasting success of your partnerships. By understanding why knowledge-sharing is important and then taking the necessary steps to make it a core part of your partnerships, you will be better equipped to achieve successful results as you work alongside your partners.
In a TED Talk, Stanley McChrystal, former commander of U.S. and International forces in Afghanistan, presents this compelling argument for knowledge-sharing based on his military background:
“You find that information is only of value if you give it to people who have the ability to do something with it. The fact that I know something has zero value if I’m not the person who can actually make something better because of it…instead of knowledge is power…sharing is power.”
As a leader within your organization, you undoubtedly have access to a lot of knowledge and information. And while there is certainly a case to be made for limiting access to some of this knowledge, you should carefully consider how often that is actually the case.
More often than you might expect, you’ll probably be better served by sharing your knowledge — particularly with professional partners. For example, when discussing internal operations, information siloes are often cited as one of the biggest threats to a business’s growth, because they limit collaboration and productivity and ultimately increase costs.
These silos are even more likely to occur with external partners, where businesses are unlikely to have ERP software or other unifying tools to facilitate knowledge-sharing. Without quality knowledge-sharing procedures in place, the ability of your partners to “make something better” decreases significantly. The potential power of the partnership suffers.
While a lack of knowledge-sharing can create added barriers for your professional partnerships, successful knowledge-sharing has the opposite impact, creating a true sense of empowerment and engagement among both parties.
As Deniz Yildirim, founder and CEO of tretton37 explained in a recent conversation, “For us, knowledge-sharing is not just a way of working, it is a way of being. To be able to do that, we had to make sure that our organizational culture enables this mindset. We only hire people who believe in the idea that knowledge not shared is knowledge lost, and that the only way to enable growth, change and progress is through learning and teaching. Knowledge-sharing is a two-way street that helps everyone reach their goals — both clients and employees. Knowledge-sharing absolutely has to be intentional, it has to be planned, invested in and encouraged. Continuously. It requires a lot of work, but it gives such rewarding results when done right.”
Notably, one of the most commonly cited benefits of knowledge-sharing is that it improves your own learning and development. Bloom’s Taxonomy illustrates that sharing knowledge or creating resources for others can deepen your own understanding of a given topic, helping you gain new insights that can further improve your own efforts.
Knowledge-sharing ultimately ensures that everyone in a partnership has the resources they need to perform their role to the best of their abilities. This naturally results in more efficient work by erasing any skill or knowledge gaps. By sharing knowledge, you give everyone equal access to information that can help them gain new insights — and potentially drive new innovations that may have been overlooked if knowledge was withheld.
While knowledge-sharing can address the immediate needs of completing a partner project in an effective manner, it also plays a vital role in establishing a baseline of trust for your partnership.
Trust is what enables collaborative relationships, where both sides are able to innovate as they work together toward a solution. It ensures full alignment on the goals, vision and overall priorities of the partnership. It gives everyone confidence in the stability and viability of the partnership. Rather than looking over their shoulder and worrying about what their “partner” has planned next, trusting partners can focus on the task at hand.
In fact, research makes it clear that when trust exists in a business partnership, partners don’t waste their time on trying to avoid being exploited. Instead, the focus shifts to helping both sides achieve mutually beneficial economic results. Trust is also essential for a sustainable partnership that stands the test of time.
By sharing knowledge with your partner rather than withholding it as leverage, you foster that baseline of trust that will encourage closer collaboration and a more unified approach to all aspects of your work.
The type of information that you need to share will undoubtedly vary between individual partnerships. But what’s most important is that you start by developing a culture where knowledge-sharing is the norm.
Look at knowledge-sharing from the context of how you can add value to your partnerships and maximize your results together. As you develop more transparent and open systems for knowledge-sharing, you can truly empower both yourself and your partners.