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3 Keys to Sharing Tribal Knowledge in Your Small Business

Since I was a young man, I’ve spent countless hours sitting around the campfire at the end of the day telling and listening to stories. Some of the people I’ve come to respect most over the years taught great life lessons as we stared into the embers.

I’ve also taken time to do the same with my sons (who are now all adults) and have been teased in recent years about how many of my stories tend to be repeats. “I know that one Dad,” says one of them. “That’s the one about ABC.”

My oldest will then chime in, “Dad, we’ve heard your stories so many times we’ve got them numbered.”

“This one is number 78,” says my youngest. “The life lessons is XYZ.”

I know I should be happy that the lessons have sunk in. All three of them are fine men. I’m very happy to be their father. However, unlike my sons, I wonder how much of this “tribal” knowledge gets shared among employees in a small business? When I was younger, there were guys who stepped up as mentors and kind of showed me the ropes, but today there seems to be an “out with the old and in with the new” mentality whenever people and roles change. I can’t help but wonder if that’s a good idea.

What is the unspoken or informal order of things within your company? Is there a vehicle for sharing that information with those new to your organization, or do you leave it up to chance?

Here are three suggestions that might help share some of that experiential knowledge that is never formally explained, but vital to the success of your business:

  1. 1.    Meet together regularly as a team to share stories. This could be part of a quarterly planning meeting or other team get-together. Stories are a great vehicle for learning; and sharing stories about successes and failures could be a great way to share the “unspoken order of things” with your employees.
  2. 2.    Assign a more experienced mentor to a younger (or less experienced) employee. There’s a reason that the trades are so successful with an apprenticeship program. It just makes sense to me that a more experienced colleague take a less experienced person under their wing. This isn’t necessarily to make sure they know how to do their job (we should be able to assume that), but someone to help navigate the nuances of working within the company is a good idea.
  3. 3.    Spend one-on-one time with our employees on a regular basis. Once a month, or at least once a quarter, it’s a good idea to sit down with your employees for a one-on-one conversation about goals, objectives, and performance. This is also a great time to share tribal knowledge.

It doesn’t really matter how you choose to share tribal knowledge the important thing is that it happens. Leveraging the experience and wisdom (hopefully) of senior members of the company just makes sense to me. What’s more, I think it’s important to look at this as a long-term effort, rather than something that you will eventually finish. If you are doing something successful to share this kind of information within your company, please share it with us. What are you doing? Do you think it helps your employees and your company?

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About the Author

  • Ty Kiisel

Small business evangelist and veteran of over 30 years in the trenches of Main Street business, Ty makes small business financing and trends accessible in common sense language devoid of the jargon. Ty writes about small business financing and other best practices for Lendio, in addition to sharing his passion for small business every week on Forbes.com. He's also the author of the book, Getting a Business Loan: Financing Your Main Street Business.

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Comments

  1. This post is awesome..i’ve been reading tons of crap posts from other blogs, but shows you have a more educated reader base.