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Tribal Knowledge

Tribal knowledge is the unwritten collective wisdom of an organization. It refers to the tradition of tribes handing information down from generation to generation in the time before the written word was developed.

In the same fashion, when information is not document properly, it must be passed from employee to employee.

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There are many obvious shortcomings to relying on tribal knowledge.

  1. Information may be passed incorrectly. This is similar to the telephone game that elementary school children play. Every time the information is relayed, there is a high likelihood of something being distorted.
  2. Tribal knowledge is inefficient. The same piece of information may need to be presented numerous times for it to stick. If the information is not written down, committing to memory takes the effort of two people, not just one person looking over documentation.
  3. Tribal knowledge is often misinterpreted. What a person says may not be what they mean, or what is heard. When a process is documented, the person recording it can take their time and make sure it is accurate. This problem often leads to each person doing a process slightly differently.
  4. There is no way to check that a process is being performed properly.
  5. There is nowhere to look for information if a step is forgotten.
  6. The people who are most well-versed in the information are likely to be disturbed frequently by those with lesser knowledge.
  7. If a person holding information leaves the organization, the information leaves with them.
  8. Customers and investors will have less confidence in a company that does not properly recorded processes.

Improvement Opportunities with Tribal Knowledge

There is a tremendous continuous improvement opportunity when…

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