Have you ever been part of a team where everyone seemed to guard their knowledge from other teams, like treasure, fearing that sharing might diminish their worth? Or perhaps you’ve witnessed an environment where the pursuit of individual success overshadows common goals? Unfortunately, these scenarios are not unique and are an example of an antipattern within IT operations.

What Is An Antipattern?

An antipattern is a response to a common, recurring problem that is usually ineffective and counterproductive to resolving the problem. Antipatterns can exist in various domains, including knowledge management, software development, and project management. Recognizing antipatterns helps individuals and organizations avoid ineffective solutions and learn from past mistakes. Let’s delve into the “Knowledge Is Power” antipattern, its implications, and how to steer away from it toward a culture of collaboration and shared success.

The “Knowledge Is Power” Antipattern: A Double-Edged Sword

At the heart of IT operations lies an entrenched antipattern: the belief that hoarding knowledge equates to power over others. In this case, power could be job security, selective sharing of knowledge with like-minded people, or purposeful exclusion of access to knowledge artifacts. This mindset — a reaction to traditional organizational reward systems that applaud individual achievement through promotions, bonuses, or recognition — nurtures an environment where knowledge sharing is viewed as a risk rather than a benefit.

While this approach might offer short-term gains by establishing subject matter “heroes” who can swoop in to save the day, it significantly hampers long-term growth and innovation. Siloed hero work creates hoarded knowledge, leads to duplicated efforts, and results in a fragile system where problem-solving is bottlenecked through a few knowledgeable individuals.

The Fallout: Navigating The Consequences

The knowledge-hoarding antipattern manifests through various detrimental practices:

  • Isolation over collaboration. When individual performance is prioritized, it discourages teamwork. The belief that one’s value is tied to unique knowledge leads to isolation, hindering the organization’s collective problem-solving capacity, creativity, and innovation.
  • Outdated and redundant knowledge. The lack of a sharing culture means that solutions to problems are often not found and created again — rather than being built upon and improved. This duplication wastes resources and keeps the organization several steps behind where it could be.
  • Resistance to change. An environment that doesn’t encourage sharing is often also resistant to change. When knowledge is power, there’s little incentive to adopt new practices that could disrupt the status quo, leaving the organization disadvantaged in a rapidly evolving tech landscape.

Charting A New Course: From Hoarding To Sharing

Turning your people away from this counterproductive antipattern involves a fundamental cultural shift that values shared success over individual glory. Here’s how IT leaders can initiate this transformation:

  1. Cultivate trust and safety. For knowledge sharing to become the norm, employees must feel safe and trust that their contributions are valued. Leadership that actively encourages and participates in knowledge sharing fosters this environment, demonstrating its importance to the organization’s success. Transparency is critical.
  2. Redefine success. Shift the focus from individual achievements to team and organizational goals. Encourage practices that recognize and reward collaboration, such as peer recognition programs or team-based achievements, to reinforce the value of shared effort. Make team progress and achievements visible, and celebrate your victories.
  3. Integrate knowledge sharing into workflows. Make sharing an integral part of the daily routine by adopting tools and practices that facilitate the capture of knowledge and easy exchange of information. Through collaborative software and regular knowledge-sharing meetings, reducing barriers to sharing can transform knowledge sharing from a chore into a habit. Stop storing your knowledge in repositories with restricted access — open them by default so that they promote collaboration from everyone. Secure them only when necessary.
  4. Lead by example. Leadership must talk the talk and walk the walk. By actively sharing knowledge, leaders can signal to the rest of the organization that it’s not just encouraged but expected. This top-down approach can help dismantle the belief that knowledge needs to be closely guarded. Set goals for everyone to achieve — individuals, teams, and departments — and tie them to the right incentives that promote knowledge sharing, collaboration, and experimentation. Reward teams that experiment, fail quickly, learn, and share those learnings freely with others.

Embrace A “Sharing Is Power” Culture

Addressing the “Knowledge Is Power” antipattern is no small feat, requiring a concerted effort across all levels of the organization. But the benefits of this shift are enhanced innovation, agility, and a more resilient and collaborative culture — all key and invaluable attributes in today’s fast-paced IT organization. By recognizing and actively working against this antipattern, IT leaders can unlock their teams’ true potential and foster an environment where knowledge isn’t just power — it’s a shared resource that propels everyone forward.

Let’s Connect

Have questions? That’s fantastic. Let’s connect and continue the conversation! Please reach out to me through social media or request a guidance session. Follow my blogs and research at Forrester.com.