Knowledge chaos chases away teams’ productivity and leaves redundant questions floating around the workspace. Where are those documents? Who can grant access to them? What do you mean we didn’t have a backup?!
It may appear that lack of structure in knowledge exchanges is a small inconvenience. Data proves otherwise. Inefficient knowledge sharing costs large businesses $47 million per year, not to mention the time lost and the toll it takes on employee motivation.
So if you want to coax more clarity out of chaos in multi-team collaboration, you need to re-assess how you structure knowledge sharing in your workplace.
- What is Knowledge Sharing?
- Why is Knowledge Sharing Important for Outsourcing?
- How to Nurture a Culture of Knowledge Sharing
What is Knowledge Sharing?
Knowledge sharing refers to the process of capturing, organizing, and disseminating crucial information about a business or a project among its contributors. It is a way of “packaging” your team’s expertise into reference materials that are easy to come back to at any time.
Sharing information about your project can take many forms:
- Technical documentation
- Code repositories
- Case studies
- Collection of best practices
- Instructions, etc.
If you think about it, even your daily calls with the team are knowledge-sharing activities. But spoken words get forgotten or misinterpreted. So proper knowledge-sharing goes beyond delivering spoken information. You should take extra time to document the discussions, practices, takeaways, and lessons learned. When teams have instant access to historical data and standard operating procedures, there’s less room for ambiguity and mistakes.
After all, scientists would be forced to re-invent themselves if they didn’t share their knowledge with their peers. Only by combining results from past discoveries could they make new ones.
Why is Knowledge Sharing Important for Outsourcing?
Your teams have the benefit of working together. They jointly discover and reuse best practices, and achieve synergy by virtue of being colocated. Then you bring in external hires or an entire team onboard via an outsourcing partner and things get complex.
Let’s take a look at two common outsourcing services models:
- With Staff Augmentation, the management of new hires is solely on your side, meaning you’ll need to provide them with sufficient knowledge to get productive.
- With a Managed Team, you’ll share management responsibilities with the vendor because you hire the whole team rather than separate specialists. Still, you’ll need to relay all the important information that they need to do their job best.
Proactive knowledge sharing helps build relationships with your vendor and new specialists through:
- Optimized onboarding process: Organizing all relevant materials into one convenient system will make it easy for new specialists to learn how things work at your end and get productive faster.
- Knowledge reuse: Diligent documentation provides teams with a knowledge backlog, they can refer to anytime. They can reuse the information instead of starting from scratch, saving time and increasing productivity.
- Knowledge cross-pollination: Knowledge exchanges go two ways. Your outsourcing partner can also advise you on different technologies and share their best practices on team management, software development, and organizational alignment.
- Higher inclusivity: Having all knowledge organized in one place, rather than conveyed orally, will ensure no member of the team is left out, whether they are on-site or remote.
- Information relevance: Knowledge-sharing systems make it easy to update the stored intel. Doing so helps ensure that everyone always has access to the latest information and remains up-to-date on any changes.
Knowledge sharing is the pillar to better team coherence and performance. But it’s hardly a set-it-and-forget-it task. It is a culture you cultivate and constantly develop, especially if you intend to grow your company and scale outsourcing partnerships.
How to Nurture a Culture of Knowledge Sharing
Knowledge sharing makes any work less of an uphill battle. But it’s a practice that requires deliberation. According to a Deloitte survey, 75% of businesses acknowledged the positive impact preserving knowledge will have on their future success. But only 9% claim to be ready to implement sharing knowledge as a part of their corporate culture.
Well, you can be among that upper percentile of leaders who do get intentional about knowledge sharing if you adopt several simple, yet effective practices.
1. Establish a Knowledge Sharing Strategy and Support it with Tools
To collect and store knowledge you will need tools. However, if you want to collect and store knowledge efficiently, you will need a knowledge sharing strategy first.
Knowledge sharing should be based on the project’s overall goals and each department’s/team’s needs. So you need first to define: how will you manage knowledge? What kind of knowledge will you collect? Where are current knowledge assets and how will you transfer them to the new system? What knowledge gaps do you need to fill-in?
After assessing the whole situation, select the tools with the features and capabilities that fit your needs. Make sure your tool meets the following criteria:
- Discoverable: Everybody can easily find the information they need (e.g. there are clear categories, tags, descriptions, correct namings, etc).
- Collaborative: All employees can help increase and improve the project knowledge by documenting their experience.
- Sustained: The system can store information for a long period of time.
- Flexible: The information can be updated easily without the loss of clarity, accessibility, and discoverability.
- Adaptable: The system can be easily customized to meet the needs of different teams or individuals in terms of content, organization, and looks.
Some of the popular knowledge sharing tools IT teams use are:
2. Capture All Relevant Knowledge and Build Writing Culture
Now that you have knowledge sharing strategy and tools prepared, you need to capture information for relevant materials. Here are the types of knowledge assets you should keep on record:
- Project overview and supporting documentation
- Technical requirements
- Source and shared code repositories
- Sample and actual test cases
- Coding best practices
- Design /brand style guides
- Reference software architecture
- API documentation
- Troubleshooting guides
- Bug reports
- Operational instructions and manuals
Usually though, you will discover that a large amount of relevant information is undocumented. Mostly because people are too busy, unwilling, or lazy to actually write everything coherently and clearly.
Furthermore, many specialists have a writing barrier, so instead of creating a comprehensive document or report, they choose to leave comments on an issue tracker or write general messages in a chat.
To address this issue you need to cultivate a solid writing culture.
Large organizations are already actively implementing writing into their corporate culture. For example, instead of doing PowerPoint decks, Jeff Bezos forced Amazon’s senior leaders to make a six-page, dense memo. Why did he do this? Because writing things down forces you to think more about how you present your ideas to the world.
A strong writing culture will benefit even the most technological companies in the following ways:
- Adding more structure: Structured knowledge = always accessible knowledge, meaning any new team member — in-house or remote — can find the answers they need.
- A permanent record of knowledge: By writing everything down, your team reduces the risk of experiencing brain drain when the specialist leaves the company with all crucial info stored nowhere else but in their memory.
- Clear thinking across the teams: As your specialists become accustomed to writing everything down, they will be able to express their opinions and thoughts more coherently and logically. Because clear writing leads to clear thinking.
To make writing the preferred method for sharing knowledge, you can:
- Give employees examples of pre-filled documents or templates
- Identify which materials require standardization and which allow for personalization
- Ensure your employees have a way to obtain support while they create a material
- Allocate time for employees to write
- Create a writing guide and schedule teaching sessions to promote clear and proficient writing
If you want to inspire this culture, first you must lead by example. Dedicate your time, as well as that of your managers, to quality writing and documenting. For instance, Bezos does exactly what he expects from his employees: he writes a long letter every year to shareholders.
3. Reduce Information Hoarding
No matter how good your knowledge management strategy, it will fall short if people are reluctant to share. This phenomenon is known as knowledge hoarding, which occurs when specialists, teams, and organizations keep crucial information from their teammates and employees.
How do you break that habit? Try these steps:
- Share product roadmaps with all teams: By doing so, you will help your outsourcing teams/specialists to have a clear sense of direction from the moment they have jumped into your project.
- Communicate changes proactively: Outsourcing vendors aren’t just a tool you use to meet capacity needs — it is a two-way partnership. To get the best result out of outsourcing, you need to keep your partner in the loop on your upcoming plans. Or else they won’t be able to respond as quickly as you’d like to the new requests. When we know what you intend to do, we can better prepare to either scale your teams or address the “slowdown” period properly.
- Provide incentives: Approximately 37% of Deloitte’s survey respondents say lack of incentives is a barrier to knowledge management. That may be your case too. Consider rewarding your team members for sharing knowledge. Gamify knowledge sharing by creating a leaderboard, for instance.
4. Make Knowledge Exchange a Part of Your Communication Plan
Ultimately, knowledge sharing is about timely, open, and proactive communication.
Be sure to include both your on-premise and your outsourcing teams in all relevant discussions, since both are equally important. Due to distance and time differences, later inclusion into the project, and lack of available knowledge about the processes, outsourcing teams/specialists may feel left out of communication.
Also, establish channels through which all your teams (incl. outsourcing ones) can provide feedback and chip in ideas. Determine the people responsible for arranging and monitoring knowledge sharing sessions.
To establish more effective cross-team communication you can use:
- Discussion boards: To enable asynchronous, flexible communication between employees via messages stored in folders on a specific topic.
- Regular daily calls and standups: To keep track of everyone’s progress and exchange day-to-day updates.
- One-to-one educational meetings: To ensure the transfer of information from senior- to mid- or junior-level, or from on-premise to outsourced specialists.
- Thematic workshops: To gather as much knowledge a team has on a given subject in one session.
- Asking for feedback: To make sure people are comfortable sharing their ideas, or find out what discourages them from doing so.
People are often reluctant to put in extra effort to share their knowledge. So building a culture of knowledge sharing requires effort and deliberation. But this is the challenge worth tackling: with a knowledge management system done correctly, you can regain hours of productivity lost through endless meetings, “requests for information,” and waiting for responses.
Knowledge management pays off not only when you manage an in-house team, but also when you land partnerships. Your outsourcing vendor only knows what you inform them about. The lack of crucial information will make the teams blocked, frustrated, and half as effective as they could otherwise be.
Interested in learning more about distributed team management practices? Contact us for a free workshop session, where you can learn more about successful outsourcing partnerships.