Employees who refuse to share knowledge, either by playing dumb, being evasive, or saying that other factors are to blame, undermines the cooperation, efficiency and effectiveness of organizations. Understanding how perpetrators and targets view the damage from knowledge hiding is an important step in preventing this behaviour.
While employees are supposed to share their knowledge with other employees for the benefit of the company, employees will often find a reason to keep that knowledge to themselves. Perhaps they believe that they will lose some status or power; sometimes employees who share knowledge will then be judged or evaluated based on that knowledge; and often employees who don’t trust their colleagues will be reluctant to share knowledge. Situational factors — the knowledge is complex, the knowledge is not task-related, or there is no culture of knowledge sharing in the organization — will also reduce knowledge sharing.
Knowledge can be hidden in different ways, and the consequences vary for each. One type of knowledge hiding is simply playing dumb: professing ignorance when in fact employees have the answers. Another type of knowledge hiding is evasive hiding, in which the perpetrator promises to provide the knowledge but in fact has no intention of doing so. Finally, there is rationalized hiding, in which perpetrators feel that they are unable to provide the knowledge or blame a third party for preventing the sharing of knowledge.
Although recognizing that knowledge hiding often damages relationships and can lead to retaliation (the target refuses to share knowledge in the future), perpetrators and targets have different views on exactly what damage occurs.
From the perspective of the perpetrators:
The targets’ reaction is somewhat different.
In short, although the extent of the damage can vary, the unwillingness of employees to share knowledge, which research shows does exist, can damage relationships and seriously undermine the effectiveness of teams or even an entire organization. The fact that perpetrators and targets see the damage differently only compounds the negative impact.
Organizations must take steps to limit the damage of knowledge hiding. Among these steps:
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