Two people know more than one. It might be the biggest cliché in the world, but it’s also true. Even if this should be the case, sharing knowledge isn’t often on the top of everyone’s mind. If you want to bring quality to your product or service, it’s essential that you stay competitive in the market, and help colleagues expand their skill set. That’s why we, at Easy LMS, encourage a culture of knowledge sharing so we can reap its many rewards.
To understand knowledge sharing’s importance, we must understand how knowledge differs from information. Management consultant David Gurteen once compared knowledge to a cake recipe. Let me repeat his analogy here:
An analysis of its molecular constituents is data. For most purposes not very useful, you may not even be able to tell it were a cake. A list of ingredients is information. This is more useful. Because an experienced cook could probably make the cake, the data has been given context. The recipe though would be knowledge. It tells you how to make the cake. An inexperienced cook, however, even with the recipe might not make a good cake. A person, though, with relevant knowledge, experience, and skill knowledge in their heads—not easily written down - would almost certainly make an excellent cake from the recipe.
With this analogy, I try to tell that knowledge is an enhanced version of information. It’s information that has been contextualized and combined with experience, intuition, creativity, and more.
What are the challenges of sharing knowledge?
Although it looks so simple and commonplace, employees and management can miss the opportunity to share knowledge in their organizations. Why? It’s stating the obvious, but still worth mentioning:
- Fear about sharing knowledge. People might fear if they reveal their knowledge, you may no longer need them. Deep down, we are all insecure creatures 😉.
- Unsure of their knowledge. This point is also related to insecurity. People are afraid that their knowledge is outdated or irrelevant. That’s why they are reluctant to share it. In their opinion, their knowledge doesn’t add value, or worse, it harms the quality. Some people are even afraid to be unmasked because they are experiencing imposter syndrome.
- Lack of correct technology. Having a center for knowledge sharing is everything. If people don’t have the correct user-friendly tool, their motivation to use it will decrease to zero.
- The benefits are missing. Why share if you don’t benefit from it? That’s a common thought.
- Not knowing what you know. If you’re not aware that you possess relevant knowledge, you can’t share it.
To be honest, in the early stages we struggled with sharing our knowledge too. Especially points two, three, and maybe four affected us. Also, time was always an issue. Let me explain.
The direct benefits aren't always apparent, which is hard to look past
The direct benefits (for others) aren't always apparent, which is hard to look past. For instance, the long-term benefits of writing stuff down are hard to think of because you won't see the result immediately. But, in a couple of weeks, when people begin picking up stuff on their own because they could reference clear documents, the benefits are evident. At first, our reflex was that writing clear documentation took too much of our precious time, but now we recognize it saves us precious time. We experienced its benefits, and now the tables have turned.
So, what are the benefits of sharing knowledge?
This list could easily be ongoing, but let’s share the most important benefits.
- Improves communication and collaboration. By sharing knowledge, you’ll create a common ground where everyone can discuss topics on a higher level.
- Prevents errors from occurring. You can complete projects much more quickly if you have a shared repository of knowledge. Because it means people spend less time searching for information and waiting for key people to respond.
- Boosts employee engagement. No one wants to work on an isolated island because, in the end, that’s pretty boring. If you’re an open, cooperative company, employees feel valued (for their knowledge) and are more likely to stick with you.
- Retains knowledge. You want your company to retain knowledge. If one person has particular knowledge and he or she leaves, you’re screwed.
- Augments efficiency and competence. According to a Mckinsey report, employees spend 1.8 hours every day looking for correct information. By using a user-friendly knowledge center, this unproductive time shrinks significantly.
- Gives security to people. If a person is the only one who has certain knowledge this will add to their stress levels because they are a single point of failure.
- Builds upon each other’s knowledge. Sharing knowledge,as it also is with ideas, gives other people the option to build on that knowledge or combine that knowledge with their own. We get to a point where 1+1=3.
How do we share knowledge in our workspace?
Confluence for documentation
We document our knowledge in Confluence. Teams use this tool to collaborate and share knowledge efficiently. Users can create blogs and pages, which can be commented on and edited by all the team members. We have chosen this tool because we already use Jira, a project management tool of the same supplier.
Although the tool is user-friendly, if you do not use or structure it correctly, it can become a swamp. That’s why we have some simple ground rules:
- Make sure your documentation is in the right folder.
- Give your documentation clear, searchable titles.
If you want to add information, first check if there is already information about it. Then, expand or update the existing information.Use timestamps if needed.
- Before you ask someone else for information, you first have to check if it’s already in Confluence. If not, ask someone and afterward add it to Confluence.
So far, we have already created over 100 articles.
Pair programming builds a process for sharing knowledge and context into your everyday workflow
Typically, our developers develop on their own. When their code is done, it is reviewed by other developers which are also moments of sharing knowledge. But sometimes, for instance, if we have to tackle a complex problem or try something new, they will program in pairs. Pair programming is an agile software development technique in which two programmers work together at one workstation. This process enables them to learn from each other while they program. They can point each other in the right direction, exchange ideas, and discuss approaches. Pair programming builds a process for sharing knowledge and context into your everyday workflow.
Recently, we’ve experimented with mob programming. With mob programming, a group of brilliant minds (more than two) work together on the same thing, at the same time, in the same space, and at the same workstation. One developer (the driver) is at the keyboard and types what the other developers (the navigators) decide on. These roles switch every ten minutes. The first result was positive.We were enthusiastic and felt that our solution was of higher quality than normal.We even fixed a bug that we previously thought was unfixable. We’re going to do it more often to see if we want to adapt to this new approach at Easy LMS.
Easy LMS Talks
We work in different teams. To know what’s going on in other teams, we have a quarterly show-and-tell meeting called Easy LMS Talks. It is a moment where we can let our work shine and tell our colleagues all about it. And that could be anything. It could be something you’ve learned, something you’ve experimented with, something you’ve read, a new feature you’ve worked on, or a process you’ve improved. This meeting is a great opportunity to learn from each other and exchange ideas. We record the presentations for those who can’t attend.
Everyone has their expertise or field of interest. If someone wants to know more about a specific topic or to learn from a colleague, then masterclasses are the ideal medium. Colleagues can ask each other to prepare a masterclass based on their questions.. For instance, our implementation consultants sometimes don’t have the details r that they need to provide a satisfying answer to technical questions. When this happens, they collect all their questions on that subject and can ask a developer to explain them in a one-hour masterclass. The client has to wait a bit longer for an answer, but then they get a much more informative answer, and all future clients have a better answer quicker.
We don’t just keep our knowledge to ourselves. We also organize workshops for members of the Delft Rowing Club, Proteus Eretes.
Dedicated Slack channels
We have some dedicated Slack channels like #inspiration where we post interesting blogs, videos, books, and so on. Of course, we contact colleagues right away if we encounter something relevant to them.
Exchange knowledge after conference
If a couple of us attend a conference (Tweakers, Fronteers, etc.), we exchange our new-found knowledge afterward with the rest of the team. We show them what we've learned and what could be cool things to adapt to in our workflow. This is how we made a lot of changes.
By sharing with you how we share our knowledge, we’ve taken it to the next level! Keep on sharing 😀.