The Wiki Culture: the what, how and why

16 Apr 2020 5 min read
Written by Nicoleta Bîncă, Communications & Marketing Assistant

This article is an updated, extended version of a series of articles previously published on our blog.

...but first, what is a wiki?

A solution to the growing knowledge challenge organizations face

Before diving into the Wiki culture and what it means, we will take a moment to establish the role of wikis in enterprises. How do they help? 

Preventing information silos: Enterprises are processing and absorbing more and more information each day. They are also growing faster and spreading geographically, with employees working remotely or changing their jobs more often. All of this has lead to an increased need for knowledge management platforms, such as Enterprise Wikis. All information held inside a company only becomes valuable when it is communicated - and yet, more often than not, communication remains a considerable impediment for a majority of organizations.

Enhancing knowledge sharing: Sharing information one-to-one or through meetings or training continues to work, but it is highly inefficient and means information can easily get lost or side-tracked. Enterprise Wikis centralize the accumulated company knowledge and make it accessible to all employees, whenever or wherever they need it. This not only saves time and eases onboardingbut also averts scenarios where a key employee leaving means vital knowledge disappearing with them.

Boosting productivity: Having a full-fledged knowledge-sharing platform avoids losses that can incur and helps foster a collaborative work culture. Huge productivity gains are made by solving the "knowledge challenge", with employees having easy access to previous issues and ways to solve them. For some companies, not solving this challenge can end up being "life-threatening" as they become less competitive (knowledge is power, after all).

What is the Wiki culture?

culture (noun)

cul·​ture | \ ˈkəl-chər  \

the ideas, customs, and social behavior of a particular people or society. In the case of wikis, it is the set of principles, digital behaviors and customs followed within an organization that uses a wiki as a knowledge platform. 

Core ideas

Knowing how to extract the essence of culture leads to a thriving workplace where everyone feels bound to working together towards a shared goal. For an enterprise, the Wiki culture focuses on two points:

  • Understanding the "knowledge challenge" and making it a priority. It should be as important as selling, hiring or keeping skilled employees.

  • Understanding how it is more beneficial to favor small contributions that lead to better results than larger contributions that are hard to bring together while also recognizing the importance of organizing information.

In essence, the Wiki culture is about setting up the principles and tools that will favor the contribution of information and encourage all individuals to participate in this sharing and organization process. It means empowering every individual and team to be informed, but also to create and organize information. All in all, it is about the company focusing on "group productivity" rather than "individual productivity".

Why should you implement the Wiki culture?

A change in mentality

The benefits of Wiki Culture for an organization are reflected in the way employees think - first about the group, and then about themselves. Employees are more willing to help the organization succeed. Your organization becomes more open to newcomers as their integrations can be done at a fast pace and they can quickly become efficient. You also build a workspace where temporary or former employees can still remain members of the team through all the content they have created and shared with the rest.

Better collaboration

Once your organization successfully implements the Wiki Culture, employees are less frustrated with not finding information that should be readily available. Situations, where you have to reinvent the wheel and do work that has already been done, are avoided. Employees enable and learn from one another, making for better collaboration and faster progress. They also feel like they can achieve more since they can focus on new endeavors while easily reusing information. Collaboration not only helps create a cohesive workspace but also instills a sense of stability and openness.

Improved communication

Organizations that manage to embrace the Wiki Culture are more agile and can react faster to the ever-changing business environment. They are able to bring in new team members up to speed on projects very quickly and save time that would have otherwise be spent in meetings or briefings. Teams are also able to stay up to date with each other's progress and feel more connected to what's going on inside the entire company. 

How can you get started with the Wiki culture?

Choose the right tool: First Generation vs Second-generation

First off, it is important to research and choose a tool that is adapted for enterprises. On the one hand, first-generation wikis (such as Wikipedia) are focused on content creation and collaboration. While useful, the offered features are basic (page editing, search, versioning, exports) and therefore not suitable for the more complex needs of companies. On the other hand, second-generation wikis (such as XWiki) are focused on structure and application creation. They offer the necessary additional features for businesses to meet their needs, such as a WYSIWYG editor, PDF export, file attachments, rights management and more.

It is particularly important for the tool to provide a semi-structured document approach, which second-generation wikis do. This allows users to define the proper structure for their documents, which makes it easy to fill in the information and follow projects while keeping a wiki-style history for all changes. Semi-structured documents are key to successfully organizing information inside an enterprise and keeping it simple enough that users can participate in the design of the structure.

Establish a transparent implementation process

When setting up a Wiki, you should keep in mind that you will need to convince your team that the change is beneficial for them. Some may be reluctant since your chosen tool will compete with their personal productivity tools. Keep the implementation process transparent and let them know why this particular tool was chosen, what it means for them and how it will be used. To maximize the perceived value of the tool for the users, you can choose a specific team to get started with it - one that is particularly motivated to work together and collaborate.

Encourage users to embrace the benefits of the tool

Implementing the tool successfully is one thing, but helping users see its potential usage is another. For your team to fully grasp the benefits of the tool and what it means for the organization as a whole, it is essential that they test it by themselves. Teams should be able to create their own workspace where they're in control of how the content is organized. Using simple tools, users should be able to create custom data structures that matter to the team and help them learn from one another. These structures will ease content creation and make it organized when displayed to all consumers (inside or outside the team).

Final thoughts

When employing the Wiki culture, it is important to understand that the productivity of the enterprise is not the sum of the productivity of the individuals. It's all about how the employees work together. If they work well, each gains from the other. If they don't, it can be counter-productive as each employee shoots in different directions. A key challenge for collaborative tools is allowing group productivity to rise while increasing individual productivity. This cannot be achieved by letting individuals make different incoherent decisions on how to use existing or new tools. Users and sub-groups have to be empowered to participate in the way the information system is organized. Research the tools carefully and choose one that best fits your company's needs. The right tool can and will lead to a cohesive workplace, bound together by a culture of collaboration, communication, and the sense of working together towards a common goal.

This is all based on our own experience with the culture we've instilled over the years while working with over 500 clients, but things could be different on your side. Let us know your view on collaboration-based company culture or how you implemented it.

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