Sept. 28, 2021
How can leaders facilitate knowledge sharing?
Research has shown that knowledge sharing improves organizational effectiveness, enables skill development, and facilitates decision-making capabilities. It has been discussed as one of the most important tools to survive stringent competition and changing business environments. In order to make knowledge sharing an important practice for their organizations, leaders need to remember that knowledge is an important organizational resource that may not always be formally recorded—in procedure manuals, in checklists, on posters, as examples—for organizational members to access.
Organizational leaders need to pay attention to a number of areas of knowledge, including safety. Safety knowledge is a valuable resource for jobs where employee or patient safety are concerns. In a recent paper, researchers Pernille T. Goodbrand (Haskayne School of Business), Connie Deng (Haskayne School of Business), Nick Turner (Haskayne School of Business), Krista L. Uggerslev (Northern Alberta Institute of Technology), Jeff Gordon (Northern Alberta Institute of Technology), Kasey Martin (University of Manitoba), and Charlotte R. McClelland investigated how members of a culinary and hospitality arts program generate, share, and learn safety knowledge as a way to understand how (safety) knowledge can be transferred organizationally and what role leaders play in that knowledge transfer. They conducted semi-structured interviews with 20 participants of varying roles and experiences—students, culinary instructors, and restaurant chefs—and derived three themes from the data.
The first theme indicated that students had a varying degree of experience in industry kitchens with some having knowledge of what safe and unsafe behaviors are in the kitchen. Thus, the circulation of safety knowledge relied on the interaction among individuals with various levels of experience, such that those who were more experienced in the culinary arts were able to share safety knowledge with novices, who had less experience.
The second theme highlighted differences in how safety knowledge is constructed and practiced between the school and industry contexts. Notably, the school environment is “protected” insofar as lessons may be interrupted if students need to seek medical attention, whereas in industry a quick Band-Aid or gauze may be all that is required. Pressure experienced from the environment influenced the extent to which safety could be practiced: safety may not be a priority when tasks need to be completed quickly during meal rushes experienced in an industry kitchen.
The third theme showed that safety knowledge was shared through informal means such as storytelling, a process that allowed members to come to a deep, collective understanding of what safety meant, often labeled by members as “common sense” —an unquestioned habit, through consistent practice to demonstrate safety in the kitchen and currency for professional legitimacy in the kitchen.
What can leaders do?
Findings from the research highlight that safety knowledge sharing occurs among individuals with varying levels of experience. Leaders can consider ways of encouraging safety knowledge sharing among employees, and thus facilitate learning. This can include methods of informal learning alongside formal training to encourage employees with varying levels of experience to engage with each other. For example, informal ways of facilitating knowledge sharing can involve creating a physical or virtual space and allotting time for team members of varying experience levels to interact. Formal approaches could involve the emphasis on safety in shift handovers (e.g., “safety moments” and opportunities for employees to rotate reflection on near misses that happened during the shift). Leaders in other industries may also consider the aforementioned examples of creating a space for their team members to interact and facilitate meetings to discuss what was learned and to share knowledge among employees.
Goodbrand, P. T., Deng, C., Turner, N., Uggerslev, K. L., Gordon, J., Martin, K., & McClelland, C. (in press). Exploring safety knowledge sharing among novice and experienced workers. Journal of Safety Research.
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