In the rapid-growth phase of a startup, one of the most challenging problems is ensuring that your growing team has access to the required knowledge to properly and efficiently do their jobs. This is an issue in every company, but it's particularly difficult for a startup for several reasons. With a sudden and massive increase in hiring, the core team finds itself juggling two roles, maintenance of the platform and onboarding/mentorship, and becomes overwhelmed. The technologies and techniques used are also in flux as the platform is forced to scale. And employees are often not incentivized to share knowledge, or in the worst cases are implicitly incentivized against knowledge sharing.
While the first two issues can largely be solved with the proper tooling to document and share knowledge, the last issue cannot be fully solved with technology; the solution must include a strong culture of rewarding knowledge sharing and preventing knowledge siloing.
Make sharing knowledge easy
To empower your employees to share knowledge, you should make it as easy as possible for them to document information relevant to the company, find the right information when needed, and quickly answer questions without getting overwhelmed. There are countless tools to collect and categorize a team's knowledge, but from my experience many of these solutions fall short when it comes to actually finding and sharing the information contained in them.
As a software engineer at a rapidly-growing startup, I noticed that tools like Confluence often went unused or became outdated, and as a result the same questions were asked and answered on Slack time and time again. That's part of the reason why I developed QuickQ, a web platform and Slack app designed to solve this "last mile" issue of knowledge sharing. By making it easy to collect and share knowledge within the main communication tool of the company, my hope is that knowledge sharing becomes more collaborative, more real-time, and less of a time sink.
Reward knowledge sharing
Regardless of how easy it is to share knowledge, it won't become a part of your company's culture if it's not properly incentivized. Knowledge indexing and sharing requires careful thought, time, and empathy for those who are learning, yet it is often ignored or taken for granted. Managers should explicitly encourage knowledge sharing, account for it when planning work, and offer praise when they see it happening. Consistently answering questions related to technical processes or onboarding saves the company a massive amount of time and effort, ultimately affecting the bottom line.
I'm currently working on a detailed admin dashboard for QuickQ that will track who is answering the most questions and sharing these answers when needed so you can easily identify the greatest contributors on your team. But technology alone cannot solve this problem: part of a knowledge sharing culture must account for contributions when determining employee compensation and raises.
Discourage knowledge siloing
The problem of knowledge silos is perhaps the most difficult to solve, and while tools like QuickQ certainly help, the most effective solution is a culture of knowledge sharing. Part of this is that managers should be adept at identifying knowledge siloing and explicitly discourage it. For example, when one engineer is always fixing the same issue that crops up in your production environment, ask yourself if their process can be easily documented and shared to new hires. If you instead reward the engineer for fixing the same problem a fifth time, this is implicitly encouraging siloing and may be preventing a more collaborative approach to permanently addressing the issue. Other strategies for discouraging siloing include promoting cross-team collaboration and introduction of shared goals and metrics.
I became interested in addressing the problem space of knowledge sharing after seeing patterns and pain-points in a rapid-growth startup. If you're curious about a new and evolving approach to knowledge sharing, check out my new platform, QuickQ.