If you’ve ever played the game “telephone,” you’ll understand that information is easily distorted. Unfortunately, companies often have the problem of a very expensive game of telephone because of unclear internal communication.
Startups that focus on effective knowledge sharing have a competitive advantage over those that don’t — this is clear even in the numbers. Poor knowledge sharing can cost companies $2.7 million a year or more. Startups (and all companies!) can’t afford to lose that.
54% of respondents from this Starmind report said their company “doesn’t have a process for extracting knowledge before people leave or aren’t aware of one.” The knowledge that might be extracted can be explicit or tacit — the former referring to procedures and documents while the latter refers to intuitive or experience-based knowledge. Both types of knowledge are equally vital to a startup’s growth.
By formalizing your startup’s knowledge-sharing process, you can better ensure teammates are aware of all the information regarding company ideals and operations, avoiding the risk of uninformed employees and lost knowledge. Here’s how to set your company up for success.
1. Create a knowledge base
The easiest way to share knowledge — particularly explicit knowledge — within your organization is to document it. This is commonly done using a knowledge base or company wiki. By having all key company processes and information documented in a central knowledge base, you can access information from any point in your company’s history. This way, as employees come and go, you don’t lose their expertise regarding your company.
Hosting vital information in one place helps new employees onboard faster and keeps current employees updated. Over at Buffer, teams can customize their wikis to fit their precise needs. Buffer’s Head of People Ops, Nicole Miller, says, “The people team has guides [in the company wiki] on retreat planning, role change checklists, and templates for everything from vendor evaluation to exit interviews.” This is like a one-stop-shop for company processes and responsibilities.
Some information that you can keep in your startup’s knowledge base includes:
Relevant resources for each team, broken down by category and department (e.g., engineering team’s codebase, marketing team’s content calendar)
Embedded videos documenting internal processes
Company policies and FAQs
However you choose to build your startup’s wiki, it should ultimately achieve the goal of becoming a single source of truth (SSOT). A good SSOT includes processes, resources, and information that helps build company culture and evolves with the organization. Headspace keeps its mission statement front-and-center on the company wiki’s homepage to keep everyone laser-focused on the organization’s goals.
The best tool for building your knowledge base should simplify knowledge sharing, management, and transfer. Thousands of users use Notion as their company’s knowledge base — and you can too. Here’s a great guide to building your own internal knowledge base to function as your company’s SSOT.
2. Encourage cross-functional collaboration
Cross-functional collaboration requires employees to exchange information in order to complete a project or a task. It builds information bridges naturally so folks from different teams can come together around a shared goal.
A good example of a cross-functional system is Pitch’s company roadmap which gives every team a view into the status of current projects. The transparency of their system allows everyone insight into the progress and context of each project.
When all company-wide projects are contained in one place, teams can come together more easily because all context and knowledge is readily available. Contributions can be made at any time and templates can be borrowed but the focus of each team is maintained.
There might be new knowledge sharing between teams too, like a system used by the marketing team that the engineering team might find beneficial for tracking tasks. At Codecademy, teams are encouraged to define their KPIs and metrics on a company wiki page called the Metrics Dictionary.
Practicing cross-functional collaboration internally can also help with effectively executing external projects. If employees know where to go for expertise, they save time otherwise spent on research and can offer more value to customers. For example, if your new customer asked a salesperson a technical question, knowing who to pull in to provide insight on your team can build the customer’s confidence in your team.
In practice, you need to implement systems and programs that encourage employees across teams to collaborate synchronously and asynchronously. Learn how to harness cross-functional collaboration for your startup for increased efficiency and little overhead in the cross-functional playbook.
3. Offer incentives for active knowledge sharing
Look. Incentives work. Not just at startups, but at all companies and in all types of relationships. If you’re able to reward someone for doing something — and thus reinforcing their positive behavior — there’s a higher likelihood that thing gets done more frequently.
Consider rewarding employees who make an effort to share knowledge. You can give the rewards after they do the task or at the end of an office year in the form of a monetary bonus. However, as a startup, you probably don’t have money to burn, so you’ll have to get creative with your incentives. Try out coupons for subscription services, Amazon shopping sprees, or shared experiences for the whole team.
Whatever you decide, make it a standard part of the knowledge-sharing process. This will demonstrate to others that giving information and assisting teammates in understanding topics is rewarded and encouraged by the company, driving more employees to do so.
For more ideas on incentivizing knowledge sharing in your company, check out this guide.
4. Allow constructive feedback
Fast-moving startups need to make time to provide feedback. It’s an essential type of knowledge that both helps teammates learn, and also helps everyone feel like their voice is heard — and probably produces better, more informed work in the end. But, you need to foster that space in order to make it constructive, prevent escalation, and proactively detect any issues that arise.
You can do this with a 360 review or office hours format where employees send in anonymous concerns or feedback to be addressed by relevant personnel. To create an anonymous system, you can set up a Google Form (or equivalent software) that does not require an email address or any other form of identification. This gives employees the confidence to provide constructive feedback that they may not otherwise feel comfortable expressing.
Take a page out of Levels’ book and create dedicated sections for feedback, complete with context and discussion embedded in all documents within your company wiki. This allows every employee — past and present — to see the whole picture rather than individual perspectives.
You should also check in with employees about the knowledge-sharing processes you’ve put in place. Tools like Lattice or ContactMonkey allow team members to provide feedback at a regular cadence.
Once you’ve given employees a place to regularly give you feedback, you can consolidate it all and share it broadly — using this as an opportunity to showcase you hear feedback and are acting on it.
5. Create an environment that encourages knowledge sharing
Remote work zapped some of the traditional physical spaces where employees might share vital tacit knowledge. The water cooler, shoulder taps at desks, over lunch — with teams spending less time in physical offices, so too might they spend less time casually sharing intuitive information.
Although tacit or experience-based knowledge is vital to startups, particularly those in early stages, it is easily lost as it is harder to document in an objective manner. To harness tacit knowledge, you'll need to encourage people to actively share knowledge in public channels.
To accommodate the different ways people feel comfortable sharing knowledge, you can have both synchronous and asynchronous options. For example, you can host weekly office hours for specific departments, where employees can share on the fly, from new learnings and knowledge to tools and resources. For those who’d prefer async knowledge sharing, you can create a document where folks can add to it on a weekly basis (the advantage here is that knowledge is codified, too).
You can even use Notion to create a questions database with an upvote feature, so everyone’s voice is heard at the next all-hands.
As part of creating an encouraging environment, leadership at your company should actively participate in knowledge sharing. This signals to employees that knowledge sharing is an integral part of company culture.
Integrate knowledge sharing in company culture from the start
Don’t wait until you have a 50-person team to create a culture of knowledge sharing — document ideas, processes, decisions, feedback, and more from day one. Jack Forbes, CEO of Kopa, which still operates as a 10-person team, says, “Notion and these wikis have enabled me to control the chaos of starting a company, especially as a CEO.”
You can boost the health of your company by fostering knowledge sharing at work, helping existing employees to stay informed in the fast-moving startup environment, and making it simpler for new employees to find their feet.
When you share information widely, you can make decisions and grow your startup faster. Speed is a startup’s biggest advantage. Get started by building a team wiki in Notion to kickoff knowledge sharing and scale your startup.