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Knowledge silos: 3 painless steps to unblock them

Have you ever spent an annoyingly long time looking for a resource or piece of content that you need to complete a task? 

You’re not alone.

According to a McKinsey report, the average employee spends nearly 20% of their workweek looking for internal information or tracking down colleagues who can help with specific tasks. 

Why?

Because far too often, critical information and insights are isolated in knowledge silos, preventing your employees from making progress on day-to-day tasks and creating weeks of lost productivity across your organization.

In this article, we’ll show you how you can unblock these silos, improve your employees’ ability to share knowledge, and realize your organization’s full potential.

Knowledge silos infographic
Source – Social Economy Report, McKinsey

3 steps for eradicating your silos

  1. Understand why knowledge silos are detrimental
  2. Determine the root cause of your organization’s silos
  3. Invest in software that facilitates a culture of knowledge sharing

1. Understand why knowledge silos are detrimental

Before you can remediate the knowledge silos that exist within your organization, the first step is to understand what they are and why they’re so important to address. 

Knowledge silos meaning

According to Bloomfire, knowledge silos (or information silos) are situations in which one individual or team has information that’s not shared or distributed with other individuals or teams, the result of different teams or departments of a company operating in isolation from one another.

Due to a lack of effective cross-department communication and collaboration, employees from one team have a difficult time accessing information and insights from another.

This is a silo effect

As a result of these silos, instead of innovating and responding to change, companies and employees waste time and energy looking for information that’s scattered across an organization.

Organizations with knowledge silos:

  • have multiple teams working on similar projects because they’re each unaware that the others are working on the same initiative, resulting in weeks of lost productivity.
  • provide an inconsistent and confusing experience for clients and customers, as clients and customers receive different collateral and answers from different departments.
  • suffer from internal chaos, as employees struggle to share best practices and key information with one another.

These inefficiencies compound over time, costing organizations anywhere from $2.4 million to $240 million a year in lost productivity

While these staggering losses may come as a shock, consider that in addition to spending 20% of their workweek searching for information or a colleague’s assistance, your employees are spending approximately 28% of their time managing email.

This means that nearly half of an employee’s entire workweek is spent hunting down or sharing resources, documents, and content that are essential to performing their day-to-day tasks.

Long story short: instead of spending time and energy focusing on high-level cognitive activities and completing tasks, your employees are spending half their day simply trying to find and share materials they need.

2. Determine the root cause of your organization’s silos

While knowledge silos are harmful, they are rarely a result of employees’ purposeful or malicious intent to hide information from one another.

Rather, they’re more of a phantom menace – they usually form quietly due to the nature of how people go about their day-to-day tasks (sorry for the trigger if you hate Jar Jar Binks).

And that’s why knowledge silos can be so dangerous: they form without you even realizing it.

So what are the primary reasons why these silos develop? We’ll walk through them down below:

Lack of consistent collaboration and communication across teams

While cross-team and cross-department collaboration are mutually beneficial in the long run, it can be difficult to see the big picture in the short term. With all of the tasks, documents, etc. that employees already manage on a daily basis, there is little motivation to take on more responsibility than necessary.

Unfortunately, going out of their way to make information readily available to others or communicating with other teams – without the right solution in place to simplify the process – can be exactly that.

Employees are not deliberately withholding information; it can simply be an inconvenience to do so, one that takes time away from other tasks they need to accomplish.

Another important aspect to consider is the communication that occurs (or doesn’t) at the department leadership level. If department leaders aren’t meeting regularly, there is little to no understanding of what each team is working on.

The result? Multiple teams could be tackling the same initiative without even realizing it.

Poor knowledge sharing practices

Knowledge silos don’t just exist across teams – they also exist within them. 

Going back to the statistic around time spent managing email and searching for information, employees are already spending roughly half their workweek searching for and sharing materials that are necessary to perform their day-to-day tasks.

If it’s already difficult enough to share information amongst their own team members, why, then, would employees want to spend even more time sharing information and insights with other teams?  

And therein lies the root of the problem: ineffective knowledge sharing processes. The harder it is to share knowledge, the less incentivized your employees will feel to do so, and the easier it is for knowledge silos to form.

3. Invest in software that facilitates a culture of knowledge sharing

The key to breaking down knowledge silos, then, is to create a seamless day-to-day knowledge sharing experience for your employees.

If you can reduce the inefficiencies and frustration associated with day-to-day knowledge sharing, you have the opportunity to make knowledge sharing a part of your employees’ daily routine, rather than an extra burden. 

How?

By investing in the right solution.

Enter Kahana, a software platform that is designed to help streamline your organization’s day-to-day knowledge sharing process head-on. 

Screenshot of a Kahana hub being used to eliminate knowledge silos
Kahana hubs, like the one shown above, become organic repositories of day-to-day knowledge that are easy to access and share.

Seamlessly build knowledge sharing into your employees’ workflow 

Without Kahana, your employees are spending hours each day sifting through lengthy email threads and convoluted folder hierarchies and organizing their screens, only to end up with a cluttered mess of windows and tabs.

With Kahana, however, that floating doc chaos goes away.

Kahana makes the process of finding, viewing, and sharing files and documents throughout the day simple and intuitive, allowing you to:

  • See files and docs in a single split-screen window 
  • Keep context easily by connecting your text to uploads and pulling up references and materials in one click with “Smart Links”
  • Share knowledge with colleagues by copying and pasting a single link to a connected split-screen hub of docs, files, and content

By design, Kahana helps employees to organize content research, create content, and connect content to reference materials in a single split-screen hub.

When your employees conduct work in Kahana and build hubs with all of the links, files, and content they’ve accumulated and created, they provide direct access to their insights and learnings.

So, by conducting their work in Kahana – which employees will be incentivized to do because it saves them time and frustration – they are inherently sharing knowledge by creating a single source of truth for any topic or project that anyone in your organization can access.

Instead of having to go out of their way to share documents or knowledge, employees are engaging in knowledge sharing by simply working in Kahana.

That’s the beauty of the platform: the working unit of Kahana – the split-screen hub – streamlines employees’ workflows and simultaneously serves as the unit for knowledge sharing.

Win-win. 

Screenshot of a Kahana hub that replaces knowledge silos through cloud content collaboration.
Our team uses Kahana constantly for reducing data silos and making information easy to find. The screenshot above shows a real hub we are using for research.

Give your employees more time to collaborate and share insights

Thanks to the ability to help your employees wrangle all of their relevant links, files, documents, and content together in one place while they work, Kahana drastically reduces the amount of time your talent is spending searching for information and managing email.

Now, your employees have more time to engage in meaningful conversations, share tacit knowledge, and execute knowledge transfer effectively.

This makes communicating and collaborating with other teams and departments much easier, and therefore much more likely. 

More time for cross-department communication – paired with a robust knowledge base that provides easy access and transparency into what each team across an organization is working on – is a perfect recipe to eliminate silos and keep everyone on the same page.

Future considerations

Knowledge silos can be silent assassins. Recognizing that they exist – and how important they are to address – and taking the right steps to break them down is critical to your organization’s success. 

Investing in Kahana allows you to seamlessly build knowledge sharing into your employees’ daily routine, creating a free-flowing knowledge sharing process in your organization and ensuring that teams and departments complement each other, rather than conflict with one another. 

In doing so, you can rest easy knowing that you’re effectively eradicating silos and putting millions of dollars back in your pocket. 

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