How Business Wikis Drive a Smart Culture

Kristen Craft
January 22, 2020
How Business Wikis Drive Smart Culture

This guest post comes to us from Julia Melymbrose. Julia is the Head of People Operations at the content marketing agency Animalz. She’s fascinated by the development of work culture and the way remote teams are revolutionizing how we connect and collaborate. She loves digging into all things people and understanding what drives fulfillment and happiness (at work and beyond). You can connect with her on LinkedIn here and on Twitter @juliamelymbrose.

When you document knowledge and store it in a central location, that knowledge becomes much more than a common pool of information. Documented knowledge that’s easily accessible has a compounding effect that multiplies a team’s overall wisdom manyfold as team members can leverage stored knowledge to find new and creative solutions to problems. The more knowledge you make available across your company, the more resourceful and efficient your employees become, and the less time (and money!) your organization wastes on duplicate efforts, miscommunications, and stalled projects.

The best way to document, store, and share this knowledge for the long run is by making knowledge documentation an integral part of your culture. Building a company wiki that’s current and useful is not a one-time project. It’s a long-term endeavor that involves your entire team.

At Animalz, we put a lot of emphasis on creating a culture of knowledge documentation because it allows our remote team to work seamlessly across space and time. Below are the five principles we’ve used to build this culture, which can enable your team to work in smarter, more efficient ways.

1. Document the most widely used processes first in your business wiki

To build a culture of knowledge documentation, you need to develop the habits of both creating and consulting a centrally located wiki to solve problems and learn new processes. Documenting the processes that employees use the most on a daily basis (even if they don’t seem the most important ones for the company) will give you the highest leverage in building this habit.

The more answers people find in your wiki to their daily questions, the more often they will consult the wiki in the future, and the more likely they will be to update it or ask for it to be updated when they can’t find what they need. The combination of these habits of consulting and updating the wiki will generate momentum to keep your company wiki growing and updated in the long-term.

One of our most-used documents at Animalz is our Time Off Policy. Everyone on the team consults this any time they want to plan time off, and it helps remind people that they can use the wiki for all policy questions.

Processes that are important to the organization but only concern a few specialists on your team can wait till later to be added on. If you focus on these infrequently consulted processes first, you’ll slow the project’s momentum down (and possibly even halt it) because not enough people will have a reason to consult the wiki.

Without frequent use, employees will forget there’s a place for storing knowledge and resort to repeating questions over and over again one-to-one. This habit can lead to a culture of inefficiency because it makes knowledge sharing dependent on synchronous learning.

The document above has information for the handful of people working on the back end of our production management system. Though useful, this document doesn’t help build the habits that drive a culture of documentation at its inception.

Documenting the most-used processes first will help your team establish the habits of consulting the company wiki for questions and information and of requesting additions to missing or outdated information. These two habits will make knowledge documentation an integral part of your culture and help your team members work more efficiently and independently.

2. Treat all documents as works in progress

If you wait to gather all the right answers before sharing your knowledge base with your team, you’ll never share it.

Your company processes will constantly evolve as your company grows. Approaching each document as a work in progress allows you to publish useful knowledge faster, so your team can get to work. You can always update or expand documents later on.

Updating documents whenever necessary is an important part of ensuring our company wiki stays useful and relevant. The goal is not to have perfect documents but to make helpful information widely available.

The most important thing is to start capturing knowledge. You can worry about perfection later.

Having a document (even if slightly outdated) that people can refer to will serve you much better in the long run than having no documentation at all because you’re waiting to get it just right. Your company wiki isn’t etched in stone. Use the edit button liberally.

3. Make everyone an owner in your business wiki

Maintaining your company wiki is not a one-person endeavor. To be successful in building a wiki, everyone in your organization needs to see themselves as owners of your collective knowledge base.

One person in your organization can act as the project manager for the wiki, but everyone should contribute to the knowledge base.

Build a culture where people end Q&A conversations saying “I’ll add this to our wiki.”

The project manager should initially ask people to add things to the wiki or let them know that they’re adding to the resource. Once the team is asked to take action or sees the project manager actively adding their knowledge to the wiki, they’ll be more likely to model that behavior and start adding things themselves.

pngbase64ca81bff9955d703f The goal of the wiki project manager is to reinforce the habits of updating and using the company wiki. The more people contribute to the company wiki, the more heightened their sense of ownership for your knowledge base and the more invested they will become in its long-term maintenance.

4. Don’t stop at written docs

When we talk about company wikis, we tend to think of written docs. But with digital wikis, there’s no reason to limit your knowledge storing to just the written word.

Sometimes, it’s easier to show how a process works through a screen capture video. Add that to your wiki! Other times, the answer will be explained on a call you’re recording. Upload that to your base. Or perhaps a slide deck or a diagram or a combination of resources will illustrate an idea in the best possible way.

Capture ideas in different ways and ask your team members what they find useful. If everyone truly feels like an owner, you’ll start to see people enhancing each other’s resources with their own additions. Someone may go into a written doc and add screenshots or a video walk-through for clarity. Someone else may add timestamps or written instructions to a video resource to make it more useful as a reference.

There’s no such thing as a perfect medium to transmit an idea. Different learning types respond to different presentations. Experiment with different media and keep enhancing.

The more you and your team iterate and enhance the basic versions of your resources, the more useful they’ll become. And the easier it will become for people to create and publish less-than-perfect resources on repeated questions knowing that they don’t have to get everything perfect. Others will appreciate the start and help improve the resource later.

5. Build habits around the process, not the goal

The ultimate goal of building a “perfect” knowledge center for your company is unachievable. And that’s a good thing. As long as your company is growing, your company wiki will always lag behind the new systems and processes.

Instead of focusing on completion, guide your team to build habits around the process of updating your knowledge base frequently and consistently.

Asking people to add new information they share in the company wiki will help you build habits around the process and the culture of knowledge documentation, rather than focusing on completion.

You can do this in many ways:

  • hold dedicated wiki-review days where every person in the company takes an hour to update or create a knowledge doc for their department
  • appoint a wiki manager who’ll review documentation once a month and assign open requests for new docs based on needs and expertise
  • create a rule that anyone who finds an outdated resource has to update it (if they know the new process) or find the right person to do it
  • log and track knowledge base updates and reward your most active contributors with a small, symbolic gift
Once you build the habit of documenting knowledge on your team, updating your wiki will become a breeze with the entire team contributing to it.

Whatever means you choose, building habits around the process of updating your company’s knowledge base will pay off in the long-term. Not only will more knowledge be widely available and immediately accessible across your team, but more people will help maintain your documentation when they see others participating.

Making Knowledge Documentation a Part of Your Culture

Making knowledge documentation an integral part of your culture will enable your team to work better together asynchronously. The time you spend creating documents for your knowledge base will be returned manyfold to your team.

When everyone on your team can find the answers they need, when they need them, without having to interrupt or wait for anyone else, your team’s efficiency will skyrocket. All the time previously wasted on repeated explanations and blockers imposed by knowledge barriers can now be invested in productivity.

When you build a system that allows team members to share freely, widely, and asynchronously, you’re in fact optimizing your culture of efficiency, and that may be the greatest thing you can do for your team.