As an organizational coach, I believe in helping our teams see the value of consistent delivery & establishing a sense of flow with the work they do. When a team has good flow, it means that they can deliver efficiently with little or minimal bottlenecks.
Establishing flow however is easier said than done. When a team has a shared understanding of the business and technical domain, it helps with flow. It gives the team flexibility to distribute the work amongst the team members to be able to achieve their outcomes. However, this is not how every team works. One of the biggest obstacles to establishing flow is “silos of knowledge” on a team.
Teams don’t start off thinking “Oh! Let’s build silos”. In fact, it’s quite the opposite — teams intend to build a shared understanding of their work & yet over time they start to build silos. Regardless of the team’s journey & how they got here, sharing knowledge to break down silos is hard.
In speaking to a technical manager & SME that is currently experiencing this situation, a cooking recipe analogy comes to my mind. For example — Let us say you have been cooking & perfecting this dish for a few years. A friend of yours asked you to share the recipe. When you start writing down the recipe, will you remember to share all the details of the recipe, or miss some ingredients and proportions? Will your recipe include step by step instructions? What do you need to understand about your friend’s cooking experience to tailor how you write the recipe?
Preparing knowledge sharing documentation can feel this way. So, how do you go about this as a technical manager or a SME and where do you start?
Setting the Stage
Everything starts with intent. When a leader or a subject matter expert (SME) is preparing to share their knowledge with a team it is important to consider the outcome they are trying to reach. Additionally, the team’s learning style & the context they have about the topic are factors to consider as well.
Share your intent: Setting & sharing your intent with the team can help build clarity. Clear is kind. Is your intent to help grow the team & help them become self-sufficient? Or is it to help the team overcome an immediate obstacle or impediment in their way? Your intent guides the next steps & approach.
Understand the learning style: We all learn differently. Some of us need more context & the freedom to explore. Others need more details. Having a conversation about the team’s learning style will help you understand how & what information to share.
Understand the context: Knowing what the team understands about a domain or topic can help you point them to the relevant resources you have. You may also discover that you need to write new content or share it in a different way for it to resonate.
As a SME, grounding yourself in your intent, understanding the team’s learning style & context can help create a better environment for learning.
Sharing the Details
As a technical manager or SME, once you have appropriately set the stage it’s time to dive into the details. How detailed is detailed enough? The team’s learning style & context is a good indicator to gauge the amount of detail you need to get into.
Start with good enough detail: There needs to be enough detail for the team to follow along & not too much detail to limit their thinking. You want the team to not only understand but also develop their own perspective about the topic.
Be open to feedback: It is important to create a safe space for the team to provide feedback, understand their perspective & the gaps in learning. The team’s perspective will help you gauge if you have shared the information appropriately. The gaps could be due to insufficient context, discussions, or documentation. Understanding this will help you tailor how you share information in the future.
Coaching with a feedback loop: Establishing a regular feedback loop & coaching the team as they are continuing their learning journey is critical to their success. Being hands off, can be threatening & being too hands on can be controlling. A technical manager or SME must strike the right balance.
As a SME, it is important to share good enough detail without being too prescriptive. Additionally creating a safe environment for feedback & iteratively learning alongside the team will set them up for success.
What I Reflected on
Writing knowledge sharing documentation is hard. When you’re too close to something as a SME it is hard to know how much context to set & how many details to share. Knowing who you are writing for & tailoring the amount of detail based on that is a good place to start.
When knowledge sharing is treated like a “transfer of knowledge” it can become transactional. Instead, if it is viewed as a learning opportunity for the team to build a shared understanding, the SME can be alongside the team vs. treating the transfer as a “handoff”.
When teams focus on building a shared understanding they are enabling more “flow” in their work. Teams with more flow, deliver value consistently, have more fun & are more resilient in the long run.
If you wanted to learn how to cook a dish that a family member or friend made well, would a detailed cooking recipe help? Or will it help more to cook the dish alongside your family member or friend? How might you create that ideal environment for your team when you’re sharing knowledge? How might you cook the dish with your team?
Sharing knowledge is the most fundamental act of friendship. Because it is a way you can give something, without losing something.