Does Your Team Hoard Information?

by | Nov 17, 2023 | I-O Psychology, Management and Leadership, Workplace, Workplace Culture | 0 comments

Transparency and knowledge-sharing support organizational success. Why allow stinginess?

When auditing a sales report, the CRM manager notices the report omits contact information for many company accounts. The sales manager states that he doesn’t trust the other salespeople to not “steal his contacts,” so he does not report contact information, communications, or other data pertaining to his deals. The accounting director also withholds information about post-sale activity because of a lack of trust in the sales team. Information from leads and clients cannot be found anywhere, which subsequently hampers marketing efforts. Other salespeople follow this pattern of behavior, and the company’s integrated systems cannot update information in real-time, meaning people do not receive the right message at the right moment to make important sales and marketing decisions. The result: sales slump, staff becomes demotivated, and the company nosedives into self-preservation mode, including layoffs.

Strategy from Shared Data

In today’s fast-paced business environment, effective strategic management stems from data-informed decision-making. More than ever, organizations must prioritize the sharing of knowledge to provide critical data for success. However, many companies and nonprofits share a common obstacle — the tendency towards information hoarding. One may find this counterproductive work behavior (CWB) in practice at any station — from executives to line workers. Individuals or groups within an organization — for various reasons — keep information to themselves rather than sharing it with others. This behavior not only stifles innovation and growth but also hinders the overall performance of the organization.

The Pitfalls of Information Hoarding

Research by APQC has identified knowledge hoarding as one of the top barriers to knowledge sharing within organizations (Trees & Harper, 2020). The roots of this problem stem from several different reasons. Employees may hoard information because they do not see sharing as a priority, fear the potential consequences of sharing, or believe that keeping information to themselves serves their personal interests better. This behavior can lead to several detrimental outcomes, including:

  • Reduced Innovation: When workers fail to share knowledge, the organization loses diverse perspectives and ideas necessary for innovation. They may also miss key data points to drive productive ideas.
  • Impaired Decision-Making: Without access to the full range of information, an organization cannot make well-informed decisions, often leading to suboptimal outcomes.
  • Decreased Employee Morale and Engagement: Information hoarding creates an environment of mistrust and competitiveness, negatively impacting employee morale and engagement.

Leadership should exercise mindfulness and keen observation of the warning signs of information hoarding with individuals and groups. Valuable assets in human capital, including the knowledge and wisdom of the people in the workplace, risk substantial losses if not managed correctly.

The Benefits of Knowledge Sharing and Transparency

Conversely, fostering an environment of knowledge-sharing and transparency can have profound positive impacts on an organization. Some of the benefits include:

  • Enhanced Innovation: Sharing knowledge freely within the organization encourages generating new ideas and innovative solutions to problems.
  • Improved Decision-Making: When employees have access to a wider range of information and knowledge, they can make more informed decisions confidently.
  • Increased Efficiency and Productivity: Knowledge sharing helps avoid duplication of effort and allows for more efficient processes. The self-efficacy felt among workers and the team-efficacy felt by work groups motivate them to push past obstacles and with better performance (Srivastava et al., 2006).
  • Better Employee Morale and Collaboration: An open and transparent culture promotes trust and collaboration among employees, leading to a more cohesive and motivated workforce.

To improve innovation, design better strategies, increase job satisfaction, and retain good employees, business owners and executives should foster a learning and sharing culture.

Strategies to Encourage Knowledge Sharing

To combat the issue of information hoarding and promote knowledge sharing, organizations can adopt several strategies.

  • Creating a Culture of Openness: Leadership should actively encourage and model knowledge-sharing behaviors. Modeling — walking the walk and talking the talk — can improve the adoption of knowledge-sharing behaviors.
  • Implementing Knowledge Management Systems: Technology can facilitate the easy sharing and management of information. Many CRMs (customer relationship management systems) can share information from sales, marketing, and customer service. Knowledgebases such as SharePoint sites, Atlassian, and other repositories of company information can provide useful information within searchable databases for easy retrieval.
  • Recognizing and Rewarding Sharing Behaviors: Managers should acknowledge and reward knowledge-sharing and collaboration.
  • Training and Development: Providing employees with the skills and understanding of the importance and methods of knowledge sharing.

Companies and nonprofits need not adopt everything all at once. Start small and build on successes toward the implementation of these strategies.

It Comes Down to Leadership

Several theories in leadership, when leveraged appropriately, can help organizations to implement strategies to enable knowledge sharing, collaboration, and transparency without fear. The following examples of leadership styles have their uses and their weaknesses. Leaders may wish to avoid more transactional leadership styles, such as laissez-faire or management by exception, and move toward more transformational leadership styles to foster organizational citizenship behaviors (OCBs).

  • Transformational Leadership Theory: This theory posits that effective leaders transform their organizations through their behavior and actions, including transparency. Transparency inspires the motivation and individualized consideration components of transformational leadership (Bass & Avolio, 1994).
  • Leader-Member Exchange (LMX) Theory: This contemporary theory describes an organizational structure where leaders connect more closely with an ingroup (a group of trusted people with strong relationships fostering high degrees of helpfulness, support, and engagement with each other) than with an outgroup (formal relationships lacking in the closeness of the aforementioned ingroup). The support for LMX is that the ingroups experience less turnover, higher job satisfaction, and better OCBs (Robbins & Judge, 2018). However, exercise caution because LMX can tend toward exclusivity.
  • Social Exchange Theory: In the context of leadership, this theory suggests that transparency can lead to a positive exchange relationship between leaders and followers, where both parties feel valued and respected. When leaders reward with social benefits, workers provide enhanced performance (Gottfredson & Aguinis, 2017).

Hiring an I-O Psychology professional or Certified Management Consultant can help leaders apply theories to test their effectiveness in achieving expected results.

The stark contrast between the pitfalls of information hoarding and the benefits of knowledge may motivate leaders to observe behaviors in the workplace. While hoarding creates barriers to growth and innovation, a culture of openness and transparency fosters a collaborative, efficient, and innovative work environment. As workplaces navigate the complexities of the modern business landscape, a deciding factor in which organizations survive the competition and sustain success might lay in the degree to which they foster and reward knowledge sharing as a part of the company’s culture.

References

Barbuto, Jr., J.E. & Cummins-Brown, L.(2007). Full range leadership. University of Nebraska–Lincoln. https://extensionpublications.unl.edu/assets/html/g1406/build/g1406.htm

Bass, B. M. & Avolio, B. J. (1994). Improving organizational effectiveness through transformational leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA. Sage Publications.

Gottfredson, R. & Aguinis, H. (2017). Leadership behaviors and follower performance: Deductive and inductive examination of theoretical rationales and underlying mechanisms. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 38(4), 558–591. DOI: 10.1002/job.2152.

Robbins, S. P., & Judge, T. A. (2018). Organizational Behavior (18th Edition). Pearson Education (US). https://mbsdirect.vitalsource.com/books/9780134729749

Srivastava, A., Bartol, K. M., & Locke, E. A. (2006). Empowering leadership in management teams: Effects on knowledge sharing, efficacy, and performance. Academy of Management Journal, 49, 1239–1251.

Trees, L. & Harper, M. (2020). Overcoming Knowledge Hoarding as a Barrier to Knowledge Sharing. APQC. https://www.apqc.org/resource-library/resource-listing/overcoming-knowledge-hoarding-barrier-knowledge-sharing

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