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Masooma Memon

How to Tap into Your Company's Collective Wisdom

Knowledge is power! The collective wisdom built by your employees and baked into your organization is your biggest advantage - if you know how to leverage it.

Innovative companies understand that collective wisdom is always smarter than an individual’s personal intuition.

After all, employees learn extensively about your customers and the ins and outs of the trade in their day-to-day. If you don't leverage this knowledge, you're limiting your company’s potential for growth.

But tapping into employees’ expertise and insights is easier said than done.

With the steps we lay out in this guide though, you can efficiently use your organization’s collective wisdom.

Let’s show you how: 

What is collective wisdom in an organization?

Collective wisdom, also known as institutional knowledge, is the sum of the experiences, insights, and lessons an organization’s employees learn.

In other words, it’s the collective experiences and memories of your employees.

The idea is to tap into and document these collective insights correctly to encourage organizational innovation, improve decision-making, and also preserve employees’ information. 

Why is collective wisdom valuable?

The importance of collective wisdom is best summed up in the following sentence: two heads are better than one. 

Here’s how:

Better decision-making

You can’t hold all the answers and solutions to all the challenges you encounter. By leveraging your employees’ wisdom though, you can make more experience-based decisions.

You can also easily identify gaps in your understanding of a problem and solutions that you’re devising.

Not to mention, all the improved sense-making and problem-solving positively impact the company’s bottom line.

Improve operational efficiency

Knowledge sharing brings together employees’ information on processes, workflows, and best practices.

So by leveraging and documenting these, you can boost company-wide critical thinking, operational productivity, and efficiency.

In fact, by making all the information freely accessible, you can improve company processes as well.

Boost employee productivity

Over 80% of employees are frustrated when they can’t access the information they need. 

Thankfully, by documenting and making other employees’ information freely available in an internal company wiki, you can eliminate this frustration and time waste. In turn, you can boost employee productivity, motivation, and performance.

Build your company’s memory center

When employees leave or retire, they take the information they’ve learned over years of work with themselves.

In fact, an old but trusty research found an average large organization (with 17,700 employees, per its survey data) loses $47 million in productivity annually due to inefficient knowledge sharing.

With leadership taking a proactive approach to preserving their collective wisdom though, you can easily increase your organization’s wisdom.

Better retain employees

Efficient knowledge sharing creates a culture of learning — improving employee learning and satisfaction.

As more and more employees share and document their insights, a free flow of information ensues, which motivates teams.

Information is no longer locked behind departmental silos, which helps employees perform better as well. Such an environment, in turn, contributes to retaining employees by offering them the opportunity to learn from their peers and grow. 

5 ways to tap into your company’s collective wisdom

Start with creating a space that offers psychological safety to encourage employees to share ideas. Also, build workflows for wisdom sharing and easy ways to document collective wisdom in a single source of truth.

Let’s look at these steps in detail:

1. Create a safe space for knowledge sharing

You can tap into everyone’s wisdom only when you create a culture of knowledge sharing.

This often happens to be the leading challenge behind using institutional knowledge.

Organizations don’t pay enough attention to the work environment and whether it encourages insight sharing. The outcome? Employees hoard the lessons they learn over time.

So the first step is to always create a culture where all employees feel comfortable joining meaningful discussions to share their opinions.

Here are three ways to create a safe space that decentralizes knowledge:

  • Frame your questions to encourage collective problem-sharing. Be open and proactive in your communication with employees. Highlight you’d like to learn their diverse perspectives for making a specific decision.  
  • Welcome mistakes and challenge each other’s point of view. Tell employees it’s okay — even highly encouraged — to share counterarguments and established best practices.
  •  Tap into your skills inventory to collect wisdom to solve complex problems. Face to face with a challenge that needs niche advice? Review your employees’ skills inventory to identify exactly who will make valuable additions to the decision-making process. Then welcome and incentivize them to share their insights. 
  • Manage airtime so you can encourage everybody’s participation. It’s easy for some employees to share their experiences, but not so for others. Make sure you’re deeply listening and paying attention to not only who is participating but also who is not. This lets you prompt silent observers to speak up.

2. Create a dedicated knowledge management team

Promoting cross-functional team knowledge sharing is only the tip of the iceberg. The real benefit is in documenting those experiences, insights, and lessons learned.

To this end, set up a dedicated space to collect and access all internal information.

Tools like Notion provide the software support you need to build such an internal knowledge database. You can also use AI to summarize key takeaways from knowledge-sharing meetings.

3. Build knowledge-sharing workflows

Equally important here is to make it easy to leverage and document collective wisdom, particularly for self-managed teams.

Define roles, the what, how, and where to encourage information exchanges. This way, it’s clear:

What knowledge sharing is needed and whenWho should be involved and what their role is going to be. How should the involved parties document their knowledge.

4. Host regular SME wisdom-sharing workshops

Another way to encourage regular wisdom sharing is to promote peer-to-peer learning.

For example, if a team member is known for their lead nurturing skills, ask them to deliver a workshop on it or create a short course.

In fact, workers first turn to their peers to learn before they go to their managers — making this wisdom-sharing method an effective one.

Begin with asking managers to talk to their team to unearth who they’d like to learn from and what. Then plan monthly or fortnightly workshops.

Bonus points for recording sessions to preserve the content and make them available in your knowledge library.

5. Lead by example

Last but not least, make sure you’re sharing what you learn yourself to encourage staff to follow suit. Go on to:

Show how you document your knowledge.

Welcome folks to challenge your point of view and strategies.

Share the benefits of knowledge sharing that you’ve personally seen.

Commend people for their counterarguments, ideas, and contributions.

Most of all, always be communicating since lack or poor comms is one of the leading barriers behind locked employee insights.

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