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How To Reduce Reliance on Institutional Knowledge

Institutional knowledge, tribal knowledge, institutional memory…whatever your team calls it, it can pose a problem. When your team relies on unwritten knowledge to be successful, the risks are too high. What happens if that leader leaves? What if the person who knew how to manage that tech program gets sick and takes a month off of work?

Let’s go over how to reduce your team’s reliance on institutional knowledge and build a workflow that everyone can be in control of.

Image of person taking notes with text "How to Reduce Reliance on Institutional Knowledge"

What Is Institutional Knowledge?

Institutional/tribal knowledge is “is information that is known within a group but often unknown outside of it.” (Source) It’s also commonly known as “tribal knowledge.” This is a particular problem for rapidly growing companies. If your team started as a small group, it’s natural for that small group to learn amongst themselves. But if that group grows, it gets more and more difficult to spread that knowledge.

If there’s only one person on your team who knows how to effectively utilize a tool in your tech stack, you have an institutional knowledge problem.

Why It’s a Problem

Like we mentioned in the intro: What happens if the one person who knows how to manage that tool leaves?

No one wants to think about a knowledgable person on their team leaving, but it’s important to be realistic. The number one reason to avoid institutional knowledge is to avoid the risk of an employee leaving and taking that important knowledge with them.

Beyond that, institutional knowledge can lead to a difficult work environment. You could end up with one employee shouldering the brunt of work and feeling overwhelmed. Employees without the knowledge can be left feeling untrusted and unchallenged when they want to learn more.

How to Combat It

Audit and Identify

Step number one is identifying where the knowledge lives. Go through your team members one by one and audit the knowledge they have about work processes. Working with recruiters who have been at the company the longest will be particularly helpful in this step.

When you’ve gathered that information, audit what is worth documenting and what’s not. There’s a chance you have some institutional knowledge amongst your team that’s not necessary moving forward and if so, toss it! But if there are processes, skills, and data that everyone on the team should know, keep it for the next step.

Document and Capture

It’s time to create some training documents! However you choose to document the knowledge is completely up to you and your team. Whether you create training videos with screen shares and voiceovers or Google documents, make sure that every detail is documented.

If you can, document it in multiple ways so that no matter what style of learners your employees are, they can have a resource that works for them!

Prevent Institutional Knowledge in the Future

It’s all too easy to let institutional knowledge take over so it’s up to you as a team leader to prevent that. Make sure that you’re using tools with a low barrier to entry that can be effectively utilized by all team members. Make professional development and consistent training standard across your team. Build an environment where team members are always welcome to share the great skills they’ve acquired in their experience.

By putting the focus on leveling the educational playing field, you’ll create an open, collaborative environment where all of your team members are valued and appreciated!

Let us know how you and your team prevent institutional knowledge over on Twitter!