Turn your technical team into a “knowledge department”

Erika Voss – Responsible for platform architecture and core engineering for Capital One Software, a Capital One enterprise B2B software business.

No one likes to be kept in the dark or left out of the loop. Information has long been considered a special form of currency, turned to the owner’s advantage if shared.

In many industries, technical teams are often poorly integrated into organizational structures, siled or outsourced to a third-party service provider. Yet companies that view tech talent as a strategic advantage worthy of retention and investment have learned that isolating teams won’t satisfy anyone’s business goals.

Knowledge sharing is key to driving innovation and creativity within teams, helping to boost individual and organizational performance. At Capital One, the desire to build integrated teams and foster a culture of knowledge sharing is innate. It guides how we work together as individuals, teams and as an organization.

But desire alone does not encourage team integration or knowledge sharing. It’s important to focus on refining your culture, or what I like to call creating a “knowledge department”. When starting a new business or launching a product, there are four pillars to consider that can help you build a knowledge department within your organization.

1. Identify the rhythm of your business.

Knowing the rhythm of your business operations by listening to your associates can help you develop this culture. Create a safe space for your team members to share the impact of bandwidth on pace.

Does your technical team need more resources? Where can you help remove roadblocks to free up space? Ensuring your team feels supported to grow with your business is key to building trust within the team.

2. Leverage your business strategy.

What are your business strategy goals and how can your technical team best support them? What is your current market presence and where is it going?

You should repeat this information as much as possible to ensure associates understand their role in achieving these goals. Associates are likely to feel more empowered to share information when they understand where the business is going, and it can even help your customers in the long run.

3. Evaluate technological intersections.

Technology leaders spend considerable time thinking about technology transformations, architecture, security, and governance. What technology drives your business? What does each member of your team need to know about their role in making the required changes, and how do these changes affect other teams?

A structured approach to meetings is necessary to ensure everyone is on the same page. For example, we created “Tech Tuesday” for our teams, a day of the week dedicated to discussing these intersections and bringing together different members of our technical teams.

4. Understand your people.

A knowledge ministry is meaningless if people don’t buy into it. Building trust between colleagues is a critical success factor. For me, trust is easily built by getting to know people beyond their jobs. Create opportunities for your team to collaborate and deepen relationships with each other.

As these pillars come together, your team will build their shared knowledge and connections into a knowledge department. And the knowledge base becomes very contagious – team members often become enthusiastic and passionate about building on the base. People want to know.

Join the dots

It may take a few months for a Department of Knowledge to take shape – be patient. It may take time to gain a deeper understanding of the people, processes and technology that power these pillars.

Whenever a change is on the menu, someone can object to it. When you’re building a knowledge base for a team, some people can become territorial thinking the information is current. But in a knowledge department, you use information to build bridges rather than erect walls between teams. Ultimately, people will see the value in it, but it may not happen overnight.

At a more macro level, breaking down business silos is never easy. Still, it’s enlightening when it happens, and new insights (or knowledge) shared across teams can lead to more informed decision-making. Forging new relationships between stakeholders from different functional groups is a difference maker. If everyone is closed-minded about sharing information, it probably won’t happen. If everyone is open-minded and knowledgeable about their roles, you’ve laid the foundation for a highly productive and scalable business.

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