Tribal Knowledge: What It Is & Why It Matters

Maybe we are not well known for the word tribal knowledge, but it is an almost common factor in all businesses. When it comes to business, it refers to the ability that only a few employees in a company have access to. Maybe not in those words, but we have all dealt with it in our daily lives at some point.

When you’ve been doing something for a long time, you may have simply taught someone how to do that. For example, when someone comes to your home, they turn on the TV. The remote isn’t working, so they can’t change the channel. You tell them to move closer to the TV, and it works! This is a case of tribal knowledge.

Now we will go through the details and why it is important to document it. 

What is tribal knowledge?

Tribal knowledge is information or knowledge that a group of people knows but is usually unknown to people outside of that group. In this sense, the group or subgroup refers to the people who share such common knowledge. 

From a business point of view, tribal knowledge is the organization’s collective knowledge. It is the sum of everything that everyone knows and can do. It is an example of an intangible asset important to a business’s success.

People, goods, and methods may be the subject of your intellectual property based on your tribal knowledge. There is a lot of value in this information, and it gives your company a competitive advantage.

For example, when one team member shares how he found and fixed a problem in the past, this information is usually shared informally at the end of the workday. But this information should be documented formally within the organization for future reference. And also need to make it easily accessible to everyone who needs it.

Codification, documentation, and knowledge transfer are all required to share tribal knowledge formally. To reach this goal, people could participate in employee training programs, brown bag lunches, webinars, or mentorships.

We can write down and save tribal knowledge so that it can be used in the future and get people together to share it. Using this strategy could save money and lower the chance of losing data.

We get a clear idea about tribal knowledge from our above data analysis. Now we will discuss why it is essential to document your organization’s knowledge.

Importance of documenting tribal knowledge

Tribal knowledge may be your best friend or greatest nightmare, depending on how you handle it. To get the most out of it, you have to document it. Doing so puts business owners under unnecessary stress.

Here are a few reasons why your business needs to collect knowledge:

  • Keeping a competitive advantage

Customer happiness goes up when service quality is consistent. Quality will always stay high if a company’s processes are well-written. When a small number of people are the only ones who can do a specific job, consistency happens. If all procedures are written down, work can go smoothly even if some people aren’t there.

  • It promotes innovation

One may learn how to improve a company’s operational procedures by studying a hard copy of tribal knowledge. You’ll find that some things are hard to do for no good reason. It would be easier to do these sorts with documenting learning.

  • New staff training makes easier

Documented methods are more successful than passing along knowledge orally. With written instructions, new staff may learn quickly rather than having to ask questions over and over again. This has a significant impact on productivity while also easing the burden on more senior employees.

  • It boosts productivity

When workers have access to documented tribal knowledge, they depend less on the team’s more experienced members. Because of this, everyone will have more time to concentrate on work, resulting in increased production. Rather than wasting time discussing how things work, this saves time by not having to do so.

  • Establishes equality for everyone

In a company, nobody should be left behind. In an organization, nobody should be overlooked. But undocumented tribal knowledge does this. It doesn’t help when only a few staff members know how to make critical processes work. Growth is steady when everyone is on the same page.

  • The process of communication gets easier

When knowledge is documented, it is simpler to share updates with everyone at any time. But if a change is made without documentation, it will take time before everyone is aware of it. So, it is important to document tribal knowledge.

  • Retirement of employees

Workforce retirement rates continue to rise. Business owners who don’t give tribal knowledge any thought should use this as a wake-up call. Older employees have experience that can help your business if you know how to use it. If you don’t want to lose crucial tribal knowledge when they retire, writing down what they know is essential.

Conclusion

We have learned about tribal knowledge and why it is important to document it from above. A small number only knows this kind of knowledge of people inside an organization, which is not available to the general public.

Knowledge is power. The correct implementation of knowledge is much more powerful. You’ve seen how tribal knowledge can significantly benefit your company if written down correctly.

At QuestionPro, we give researchers tools for collecting data, like our survey software and a library of insights for all long-term studies. Go to the Insight Hub if you want to see a demo or find out more about it.