Collaboration and knowledge sharing are supposed to give your company a competitive edge. But why isn't more of it taking place?

It may be that your employees don't like to share, a new paper says.

"We've had years of research in organizations about the benefits of knowledge sharing , but an important issue is the fact that people don't necessarily want to share their knowledge," said David Zweig, a professor at the University of Toronto's prestigious Rotman School of Management.

Even though companies have spent tons of money to facilitate collaboration and the sharing of knowledge among employees, such as through the development of  knowledge-sharing software, the practice falls far short of the promise. Zweig places the blame on "knowledge-hiding" behavior. Zweig and co-authors Catherine Connelly of McMaster University and Jane Webster of Queen's University outline their theory in their paper, "Knowledge Hiding in Organizations."

Why do workers engage in that behavior? Two big factors are basic distrust and a poor knowledge-sharing climate within the company, the authors say.

Employees have three telltale ways of hiding what they know from their co-workers, the paper says: by being evasive, playing dumb, or providing a rationale (such as saying a report is confidential).

Companies may be able to overcome knowledge hiding through strategies such as fostering more direct contact and less e-mail communication, highlighting examples of trustworthiness, and avoiding incentives for "betrayal," such as rewarding  salespeople who poach each other's clients.

"If you don't work on creating that climate and establishing trust , it doesn't matter how great the software is, people aren't going to use it," Zweig said.

Reach BusinessNewsDaily senior writer Ned Smith at nsmith@techmedianetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter @nedbsmith.