Let’s talk knowledge management for startups. So not sexy, but so darn necessary.

Like I said, knowledge management is not sexy. Nobody wants to even approach the subject because it’s typically hideous and full of gaps. It’s overwhelming, daunting, scary to look at, and often discouraging. But we’re going to have a talk. The talk.

Managing knowledge in a startup or a small business is more spontaneous, unstructured, and tribal. In small teams, most of the communication and knowledge sharing occurs naturally, and typically only when needed. Teams are well-connected.

A searchable record of knowledge can reduce, by as much as 35%, the time employees spend searching for company info.

These teams may also have a ton of funding, the smartest people, all the stones and hustle; however, ineffective management of the team’s communication and information will slow them down.

In another article, 3 Ways to Capture the Tacit Knowledge Inside Your Employee’s Head, we discussed the importance of eliciting tacit knowledge from team members. So let’s give you some ways to manage all that captured tacit knowledge (whoop!) to bolster your team’s competitive edge (aw yea!).

Centralize Knowledge Assets

A study by McKinsey shows workers spend nearly 20% of the workweek looking for internal information or tracking down colleagues who can help with specific tasks. A searchable record of knowledge can reduce, by as much as 35%, the time employees spend searching for company info. Centralizing your knowledge assets will reduce some of these organizational inefficiencies, and administrative overhead.

Identify and communicate the official spaces or repositories for your team to use. Team members should not keep company information and knowledge in their personal hideaways, such as their computer drives, email or phone. Confidential, restricted or legal assets should be labeled and kept in the appropriate space.

A big no-no is to allow for knowledge silos to grow and propagate. Splintering knowledge creates redundancy and inconsistency, especially if parts of the team do not know [where] it exists. Nip this one in the bud, and fast, because it will disrupt your goals and objectives. Move a little quicker if your company is growing like a baby sprout.

We had the pleasure of speaking with Darren Murph, Head of Remote at GitLab on our podcast: Accelerating Support. On the show, Darren explained that GitLab doesn’t keep Slack conversation history past 90 days—this helps to avoid knowledge silos and to incentivize documenting information within their company handbook.

Communicate Your Organization’s Knowledge Management Process

You have your head of Development, Marketing, Sales, and Engineering (or someday you will!), and all these individuals are the best at what they do. They run their own show. Ensure their team’s knowledge management strategy and practices are in line with the organization’s overall strategy.

Everyone in the company needs to be familiar with the main repositories and how they are structured at the top levels. Make it a habit of storing knowledge in its proper place. Double-check it’s not stored somewhere else, or that the knowledge isn’t conflicting with something already recorded. This will make it easier for a dev to find the latest logo created by the Marketing team. It will make it easier to onboard a new team member. It will make it easier to find answers.

If departments or individuals (you knowledge hoarders, you) appear to be splintering off into their own environments, schedule a short meeting to discuss the potential issues and review the value of a knowledge management strategy as it concerns your overall team’s mission and growth.

Ensure everyone in your startup understands your knowledge management practices and the benefits of following them. If necessary, coach individuals to get their buy-in — it’ll be worth it in the long run, both for you and for them. Spend 30 minutes training new team members of your practices. Try to share one practice a week.

Remember, knowledge assets are the value of your team. People, resources, and funding may come and go, but the knowledge you capture stays with you.

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