Why Smart Teams Write Things Down
When working as a team (group) messaging comes easy and feels natural, whereas it does not feel natural to write things down in a more structured way. Nevertheless there are many reasons why we should be more focused on writing things down — especially when working in a team.
Articulation describes the process of codifying tacit (= implicit) knowledge into explicit (= written down) knowledge. Classic examples for codified knowledge are manuals, roadmaps and processes.
"Articulation [...] and internalization [...] are the critical steps in this spiral of knowledge. The reason is that both require the active involvement of the self — that is, personal commitment."
- Ikujiro Nonaka
Articulation takes more effort than just answering questions when they occur (group chats, email, interruptions during the day). Here are some reasons for that:
- Structuring and prioritizing thoughts needs more mental energy than messaging. The latter can be more imprecise because it allows to clarify things through inquiries.
- Every team needs a central place like a Wiki or Intranet where articulation can happen.
Thus, if a team wants to benefit from the articulation of knowledge it needs software to support it and the effort of articulation needs to be appreciated by the team’s culture.
If you want to read more about explicit knowledge, tacit knowledge and the Spiral of Knowledge you can read my post about The Knowledge-creating Company
In the short term it is easier to just explain things when needed. However, in the long run it can be more efficient for a team to codify its knowledge and just start to write things down.
If the following statement is true a team should write things down:
It makes sense to write things down when the Time Writing & Sharing is smaller than the Time Explaining multiplied by the Number of Explanations over time.
This statement might be true for the following scenarios:
If knowledge is not time-sensitive like e.g. a vision, a mission or values, you need to write it down once and can share it with everyone over time. In this case the Time Writing & Sharing is rather small.
In fast-growing teams like startups there might be new team members every week/month which leads to a high number of explanations. Instead of explaining the same thing week by week it might be more efficient to write it down once, keep it up to date with little effort and share it with every new team member.
Among large, travel-intense or remote teams it might be challenging to find some time where everybody is in sync (meetings, video calls etc.). It might be easier to write knowledge like company updates etc. down and share it asynchronously with everyone. This reduces the Time Explaining because this also includes the time it takes to arrange to be in sync like in a meeting or call.
I hope these points shows that it can be easier to write things down instead of explaining knowledge again and again. Since it is something that doesn’t feel as natural as talking it is necessary that writing knowledge down becomes part of the team’s culture.
Only written knowledge can be easily shared with the whole team and every new member that joins the team later. In the long run, your team will become more knowledgeable and more efficient.
About this series: This series of posts is about knowledge management. In my opinion the importance of knowledge management is highly underrated in companies. By writing this series I want to show why knowledge management should be taken more seriously.