I recently was part of a company supported volunteer project. This project involved ten different people from various groups within my organization who had wanted to join the project – myself included. Indeed, I was the only one from my group but it did give me the opportunity to engage with other members of the organization that I may never have had the opportunity otherwise to meet. And, as is normal with a group of unfamiliar people, we spent some time learning about each other and the various departments we each work within. As a result, I had the opportunity to learn about other groups that I had not previously encountered in my position and hopefully was able to offer some insight to the others about my group and what we do. I learned as much in that short hour about other functional groups of the organization as I had in total over the previous six months I’ve been with the company.
One thing that struck me as we went around learning from each other was the transfer of information and frustration with the lack of institutional knowledge that is easily shared among all of the different teams within our organization. Unfortunately, I do not think such a lack of instituational knowledge is something that is unique to my current company – I have felt it almost everywhere I have worked in my career in a variety of ways. From people who feel insecure with their position in the company and therefore keep all knowledge of given processes or applications to themselves and only share when forced to do so to those who seek to deny others the opportunity to achieve and promote themselves with a solution so long as they are able to claim the credit for the given solution.
Why do people behave in such a manner that is inconsistent with the success of the organization or the group? It seems self-defeating to behave in such a manner and certainly short-sighted both in the bigger and smaller picture. By not sharing knowledge and having a single base level from which everyone can grow and build upon, the result is often inefficiency, an inability to promote growth both on a personal and professional level and even chaos because there is no straightforward process from which everyone can operate. The company and the individual (or group) suffer needlessly.
When I brought this up with a friend, they brought up a valid point for why many people do this – there is no loyalty on the part of most companies to its employees so why should the employees have the sort of loyalty to the company that would enable it to succeed by sharing knowledge that would benefit everyone? In other words, it’s a dog eat dog world out there and I need to look out for number one! And I can certainly understand that mentality on one level. But I believe that it is, in the end, short-sighted for the organization, the department and the individual.
While I am not a big believer in the “company” or offering my undying fealty to an organization that will release me in a heartbeat (I’ve seen it happen too many times in too many organizations), I believe in working both smart and hard to make things better for myself and others while I am at the company. And I absolutely do not believe that I should be the only holder of information! I view my job (regardless of how my job may actually be titled) as one cog within a much larger structure and a cog that can be replaced if it does not continue to provide real value. I also view my job – particularly those aspects which are either manual or repetitive – as something that others can do and constantly strive to find ways to improve what I do. And when I find ways that others can improve, I am not shy about pointing it out as I think it can help everyone in the long run. Some people respond positively and work to improve while others take such suggestions as a personal affront to their skills and refuse to adapt. Unfortunately, and more than once, those who felt affronted have been forced to look for other employment later. In the end, trying to hold onto a particular process or application and refusing to improve or adapt only does a disservice to both the company and yourself.
For me, I never want to be the only one who knows how to do something. While there are those who argue that it lends itself to “job security”, it is more likely to ensure that, when/if that changes, the holder of that information will be “changed” at the same time. That doesn’t include the fact that, in the event of a failure, you are the one who will be held accountable and responsible for fixing the problem – even when you are on vacation or sick. Besides, different perspectives on a process or application can sometimes prove beneficial both to the company’s bottom line as well as the user’s own knowledge base. I know that I sometimes see things only through a limited prism and have been surprised by the insight that others have provided on something that I thought I knew everything about and thus has allowed me to make it better. And this has proven true both as a developer as well as an analyst and project manager.
Finally, the more people who know a given process or application, the greater the spread of institutional knowledge that will benefit everyone involved. Sometimes, there is a need for keeping knowledge limited to a given few. But, for the greater success of both the organization and the individuals involved, it is always better to share that knowledge in recognition of the fact that it is a win-win situation for everyone involved.