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OpenTent has a playbook! It took us a while to finally begin to codify our OpenTent approach in earnest. It's how we do and think about our work, recorded as (flexible) gospel. It's a collection of the unique methods and assets we've developed, centrally organized within a living knowledge management system.
We’ve resisted this kind of documentation in the past because of the fluid nature of the work we do. The limiting belief was: “We're just figuring this out, every client is different, next time we do this we'll probably do it differently and better, so why bother writing any of it down?” At the core of this objection was the question of whether we had anything unique or worthwhile to say as a tiny startup just entering the field.
It turns out we do know a couple things.
As a small startup, we have the opportunity to figure things out in our own way, according to our values, based on how we want the world to look and work to feel. It turns out we sometimes are experts. Pretending we aren’t only impedes our new teammates from being able to confidently jump into their work.
It also turns out our team really needed something like this.
In a team knowledge management discovery report we unearthed key pain points:
- Lack of clarity around our processes and roles causes exhaustion and reduced confidence.
- Our knowledge lives in many different places and formats.
- It’s hard to know where to start when there’s a lot to tackle and priorities are unclear.
- We’re trying to name guidelines on how to do our work, while simultaneously doing the work.
- It’s hard to take the abstract from our brains and put it down on paper. Especially all in one sitting.
What We Are Aiming For
We use some aspirational frameworks to guide the growth of our Field Guide.
We want this to be living knowledge that supports our team. This material will be dynamic and continuously modified. There’s a few ways we operationalize this. The tool we use (Guru) alerts us when knowledge needs updating or re-verifying. We set quarterly priorities around knowledge-sets we will update or create. We even have sections to call out new information in our weekly internal release notes.
This living body of knowledge will support the team in a few ways:
- It helps alleviate the stress caused by lack of clarity around role and processes by providing a centralized, approved ‘source of truth’ that everyone on the team can reference.
- It helps us onboard and orient new team members - it’s what we hand to new teammates as we bring them into the Tent.
We want it to be copyright-worthy. Since it launched, the OpenTent Field Guide is the closest we have to copyright-worthy intellectual property. It contains a unique business process and unique language, and provides us with a competitive advantage.
We want it to represent our DNA. As we consider what it takes for us to scale and shine our OpenTent beacon more more broadly, this Field Guide would function as a sort of DNA for other OpenTents around the world: a set of guidelines on what makes OpenTent special and the key components of the OpenTent brand. As we grow, documenting our approach will make it easier to preserve the quality of our work while expanding our reach to help more great clients.
Why We Do It
We needed a tool and a platform that allowed for easy searching, sharing and collaboration, version tracking, verification and approval processes to facilitate all of our aims above. In short, we needed a way to let everyone contribute dynamically to the aggregation of OpenTent knowledge while also editing for accuracy and consistency.
How We Do It
We faced a unique situation. We were a 100% remote team, navigating a pandemic with three brand new team members joining us. We sprinted to learn as much as we could from our team about what they wanted to see in a playbook while also cataloguing as much of our existing body of knowledge in Guru as possible. It’s not all there, but true to the nature of a living knowledge management system, we add new informational Guru cards every week and every one of our team members begins contributing to Guru from the onboarding phase on. (click here for a peek into what Guru cards actually look like).
There are a lot of tools to choose from that we could have gone with, such as a Wiki. We created a comparison chart and found that all of them had some exciting features and fell short in some critical domain (classic). Ultimately, we were excited to choose Guru. Although it doesn’t integrate with Salesforce, they have an amazing team and the platform does allow for bottom up knowledge sharing and collaboration. We link Guru cards constantly in Slack, submit Guru cards to verifiers on our team and use Guru extensively for onboarding.
In many ways, we’re taking implicit information (the kind you only learn after getting it wrong a few times) and making it explicit. This requires dedication and honesty, but it also makes us more efficient in the long run. Access to information no longer relies on access to any individual teammate, or certain experiences. The information is out there. We’re owning our expertise and watching it grow.
We'd love to talk about our approach to knowledge management and even show you around. Schedule a meeting with us at: email@example.com.
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Kayleigh talks Systems, People, & Coaching at NTEN's Nonprofit Technology Conference
Our Head of Coaching and Co-Owner, Kayleigh Collins spoke about this in her session entitled, "Building systems that work for your people" at this year's Nonprofit Technology Conference (#NTC22) hosted by NTEN. The NTC had an incredible lineup of sessions and keynote speakers. OpenTent was excited to participate and share our knowledge and insights with nonprofit leaders and change-makers all over the country. We look forward to more opportunities to talk about the topics we love!