A new approach to organizing team information and knowledge

June 29, 2018

Your team is constantly in need of information and knowledge to be successful. If you're in sales, you need the most recent customer proposal to make the next proposal for a similar customer request. In marketing you may need product information to write your next blog post. In software development you need that product spec to move forward. In customer support you need to know how to solve a specific customer problem. It's very important that your team can quickly find the information and knowledge they need to do a job, apply, remember and retrieve the knowledge.

So how do you organize your team's information and knowledge in a way that everyone can find it quickly? It's a challenge many teams face. Here's why. Our brains are unique and we all organize information in unique ways. We don't always use information in the same context, for the same job or for solving the exact same problem - and therefore one way of organizing information is rarely logical for all people or useful for all contexts.

The way systems let us organize information isn't the most effective for how our brain likes to find, retrieve and retain it - such as how an expert's brain organized it. The ideal information structure would be a carbon copy of our brain's information structure.

Our brain as a model for organizing your information


Your brain stores, organizes and retrieves information, just like you would from your file drive. In fact, when you are looking for that file or piece of information, your brain is at work - using its own organization structure to help you look in the places you'd expect the information to be.

The difference between an expert and a novice, is that experts have a far more developed organization of knowledge. The knowledge organization of an expert has many more connections between knowledge pieces, giving them many alternative organizations to tab into. Experts' ability to classify information in more meaningful - and thus more practically useful ways than novices is linked to their ability to recognize meaningful patterns.

In the image from Ambrose e.l. shown below, A represents knowledge organization of a novice with some knowledge pieces sparsely connected. B represents a sequential knowledge organization, like steps in a process or knowledge organized by a timeline. C is a knowledge structure of an expert with a clear classification. D is the most advanced structure of an expert with multiple knowledge organizations, an interwoven web of classifications and connections.  D is how you want to organize your team's information.


How to organize your team's information and knowledge

Your team's knowledge and information hub should be structured like the knowledge organization of an expert's brain. It should also enable a high level of personalization of the information structure - so that team members can follow their own logic.

Expert organization

The experts on your team, who understand the context in which the information is used, as well as the knowledge domain itself, should map the structure. The structure should be developed with the different contexts in which the information will be used in mind - and provide multiple paths to the information if needed.

Therefore, you will need to be able to create a hierarchy with multiple organization levels, much like the typical folder structure. However, to create a structure like the expert structure D, you should be able to link information pieces to multiple labels in the structure - it should be able to be in multiple places with multiple paths leading to the information piece.

Personal organization

The best information system lets team members personalize the organization structure. The more logical the structure is for a team member - meaning the closer to his own brain structure - the easier it is to find, remember and retrieve. This allows a structure to grow organically and create a rich network of links.

Team leaders may worry that this could lead to chaos. In reality it's quite the opposite! Currently team information organization is rigid and is more like a miss match of various team members putting information in various inconsistent places. This leads to a folder jungle no one can understand or follow anymore.

If the system is well designed, it will let you set up a core structure while enabling personalization without disrupting the core. That's how you leverage the natural way of information organization - empowering your team to access the information and knowledge they need to be successful.

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