As human beings, our memory capacity is limited, and over time, it is natural to forget things that we have learned or experienced. This problem is magnified in teams, especially in remote teams, where employees come and go, and knowledge can be lost in the process.
This is why it is essential for teams to document their knowledge, so it can be easily accessible and retrievable for future reference.
- Documenting knowledge helps the existing team members, new hires, as well as future leaders of a company.
- Help your employees understand the risks of lack of documentation.
- Teach your employees to always read before asking and write before telling to nurture an organized documentation culture.
- Documentation is vital for remote teams following an asyn-first culture.
As a CTO of remote teams, it is my responsibility to ensure that the knowledge and experience gained by my team are not lost. I push my teams to document their knowledge, processes, and best practices in a centralized location, such as a wiki, Google Drive, or a knowledge management system.
This not only helps with retaining knowledge but also:
- Helps new team members get up to speed quickly and reduces the learning curve.
- Helps in creating a culture of continuous learning and improvement within the team, leading to increased efficiency and productivity.
Incentivizing Remote Teams to Document Knowledge
Documenting knowledge is not just limited to remote teams; it is critical for all organizations, regardless of the team structure.
When critical knowledge is stored only in someone's mind, it becomes a significant vulnerability for the organization. If that person were to leave the company, retire, or become unavailable, a wealth of information could be lost, potentially causing significant harm to the organization.
Moreover, in today's fast-paced business environment, organizations need to be able to quickly adapt and respond to changes in the market. If critical knowledge is not documented, it can slow down the decision-making process, which would cause missed opportunities and decreased competitiveness.
Documentation is also essential for succession planning, as it provides a roadmap for the next generation of leaders and helps ensure a smooth transition of leadership.
Risks of Lack of Documentation
These are the 4 most important risks your team is exposed to by not documenting knowledge:
- Knowledge gets forgotten: As priorities change, we don't recall what we did last month.
- Knowledge gets lost: As critical employees leave, their knowledge leaves with them.
- Too many meetings: If transferring knowledge requires team members to interact live with each other, that means meeting overload.
- Onboarding nightmare: If each time someone joins and they need meetings with several people, it means nothing else gets done for a few days.
How To Solve This
People are NOT naturally inclined to write down stuff, nor to read stuff.
So this is how I incentivize my teams to document knowledge and how you can do it in your team too.
1. Start With the “Why”
Why should they read before asking? Why should they write before telling?
My why: Big flexibility comes with a big responsibility.
If my team members want to be able to work remotely and async, we need to bridge the knowledge gaps in the team aggressively.
2. Paint the Worst Case Scenario
Imagine you're sleeping, and a colleague 8 time zones away need something that only you know.
Your phone will ring. You'll wake up at 4 am. You won't be happy at all.
Now imagine it happening several times a week. Not good! Better write it down.
3. Different Types of Knowledge
This mindset applies to all areas of a company. Here are two examples:
- If Tech documents how to set up a local environment, fewer hours are spent onboarding new hires.
- If Product documents how to use a certain feature, fewer clients will call asking for help.
4. Read Before Asking, Write Before Telling
In transactional communications, don't simply transfer knowledge to your colleague.
Instead, write it down in a document and share it with your colleague.
That same document will help anyone needing that same knowledge in the future.
This applies to:
- Written knowledge (eg: in Notion)
- Drawings and Workflows (eg: in Miro)
- Video demos and other recordings (eg: in Loom), etc.
5. An Async-first Culture
In a team that has a culture of documenting knowledge, there are fewer transactional meetings, and there are fewer requirements for people to work at the same time.
This is a perfect fit for remote teams that have employees in multiple time zones.
6. Documentation Helps Every Team
Even for teams that are in the same time zone. And even for teams that are sitting in the same office room. All of them benefit from having knowledge documented.
At the bare minimum, they'll have fewer meetings, which is already a big gain.
In conclusion, promoting a documentation culture in your remote team is not just important but necessary.
By taking the steps outlined above, you can make documentation a fun and engaging part of your team's work process.
Remember, documentation not only helps your team today but also sets you up for success in the future. So let's get documenting!
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