We have all been there before -- working on an important project and needing some vital information to get things done. It happens at any and every company. As a collective force directed towards making things happen, employees at a company are generally expected to help each other, towards that common goal. But in some instances, the wealth of knowledge in an organization gets squandered, by a select few who see themselves as either gatekeepers of company information, or worse, as special employees who feel the need to protect the information that they've gathered over the years. But like bailing water from a leaky boat, many companies fail to realize how much time and money they are losing each time knowledge doesn't get shared.
Understanding why tribal knowledge fails to get shared in a company starts with seeing the social aspect of a group. How do your employees get along, and more importantly, how do they interact? Does your organization nurture an environment where people can feel free to share ideas without being criticized or shot down? Does your organization reward free and open thinkers? Are creative employees given a pat on the back for a neat idea or opinion, or are they made to feel embarrassed or nonsensical? Its when people feel that their ideas or thoughts are not valued, that they begin to hold onto ideas that in fact may be very valuable to the company and its employees.
Tribal knowledge ultimately should be treated as an asset at every company. In many instances, this knowledge may come in bits and pieces that exist in different brains of different employees. As head of your group or organization, what are you doing to actively look for this knowledge, and make sure it is somehow shared with others?
Do you show interest in other ideas, or are you dismissive? Even an idea or thought that might not appear to have value, could very well be the catalyst for something much bigger and more innovative. Who would have thought that the concept of making humans fly, could ever lead to the innovations of today's modern aircraft? And who would have thought that making a fighter jet out of material as light as paper, would lead to the innovation known as carbon fiber? No idea is too outrageous with today's technology.
Today's business leaves little time or tolerance for lost information, or information that is not being shared. Your employees each have internal batteries, waiting to be filled with new knowledge that can supercharge their skill sets, and make each one of them more effective, more productive, and happier at the same time.
In a perfect world, every employee would be eager and ready to share what they know with others, and at the same time those employees should be eager and willing to learn from others as well. Every time this doesn't happen, your company slowly loses time and money. The worst part of this is that it doesn't cost you anything to fix it.
Don't let your company become a slowly sinking ship. It is ultimately more productive for everyone to be rowing the boat, than to be bailing water.