In their book, The Tribal Knowledge Paradigm, Dr. Leonard F Bertain Ph.D., George Sibbald wrote,
“Tribal Knowledge or Know-How is the collective wisdom of the organization. It is the sum of all the knowledge and capabilities of all the people.”
The problem with tribal knowledge in many organizations is that it goes undocumented. It exists only in the minds of individuals. It can also be wrong. Different people may remember things differently and act on mistaken assumptions about what has happened in the past. Therefore, capturing and using tribal knowledge is a process improvement best practice.
Document Process Improvement Efforts
The first step is to implement a solution to capture each process improvement activity from the beginning stage of identifying the opportunity for improvement, through implementation, and resolution.
Share Knowledge Widely
Information silos are damaging to process improvement efforts. Be sure that the data you capture is available as broadly as possible to foster collaboration and extend tribal knowledge.
Create Objective Measurements
Documenting the success or failure of each process improvement effort is important in building tribal knowledge. When you measure results based on objective standards like ROI, customer satisfaction metrics, cost savings, or time to market, tribal knowledge becomes more accurate and less subjective.
Analyze and Act
With objective measurements in hand, you can now begin to consider which improvement practices were successful and should be applied to other opportunities for improvement. You can also look at missteps or breakdowns in the improvement workflow and determine how to adjust for better success in the future.
Tribal knowledge is essential to organizational success, but it is easily lost without a structure to document and leverage it. Every time a process improvement activity is captured and used, organizational intelligence is improved. Over time, each effort will build on the last and the impact of each improvement will be amplified.