How to Identify and Centralize Your Company’s Tribal Knowledge

The OneDataSource Team

As defined by, “tribal knowledge” is a set of unwritten rules or information known by a group of individuals within an organization but not common to others. Tribal knowledge is often a sign of employee’s sticking around and contributing to the evolution of business processes. It’s a byproduct of an organization’s employees doing their work over time.

With tribal knowledge in every organization, consider it unavoidable. While tribal knowledge often contributes significantly to overall quality of an organization, product or service, it can also come with consequences. Relying too heavily on, or ignoring tribal knowledge, is dangerous in four key ways:


  1. Tribal knowledge’s value is contingent upon it being well known by an employee currently involved in the respective process. If somebody knows something but doesn’t share in with anyone else, you’re in trouble.
  2. The information may be key to quality performance, but it may also be totally incorrect.
  3. Employees can hoard tribal knowledge for any number of different reasons: job security, ego, aversion to documentation, habits of corner cutting, lagging adoption of new solutions or processes or general aversions to change.
  4. Management can contribute to the problem by playing favorites, not recognizing changing needs related to the organization’s maturity or simply by avoiding technology.

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So how do you identify tribal knowledge in your company?

There are a few things to look for:

  • Does one person’s name always come up when it comes to getting a project done or collecting specific information?
  • Do you see unevenness in quality or speed from employee to employee as you review a certain department or process?
  • Does departmental productivity dip when a seasoned employee is absent?

Once you identify where tribal knowledge exists in your operations, don’t look to get rid of it. Instead, implement safeguards that preserve the valuable parts but also create redundancies to protect against consequences. The most available and effective tool these days is technology.

Today there is a rather large supply of process automation solutions that house your workflows and important information. Should something trigger the negatives of tribal knowledge, there are redundancies to fill the gaps.

Relying too heavily on, or ignoring, tribal knowledge poses a risk to your organization.

How technology mitigates the risks of tribal knowledge

Let’s look at an example we’re familiar with at OneDataSource – accounts payable. Let’s say your AP manager has been with the company for years. They know all the details on how invoices are received, what vendors or approvers need a little extra attention, where invoices go, chart of accounts, etc. If the AP manager is sick or leaves, an accounts payable automation software retains information on workflow and finances to pick up the slack.

Beyond technology helping with tribal knowledge, a strong and reliable 3rd-party support solution provider is incredibly valuable. A backup to your backup, so to speak. At OneDataSource, behind all our solutions are dedicated teams that are available to clients for technical and consultative support, but also process support.

These kinds of safeguards and redundancies eliminate the risks of tribal knowledge while preserving its valuable traits.

Our latest guide, A Modern Approach to Accounts Payable, highlights all the benefits of intelligent AP automation. It’s a great resource if you’re looking to gain efficiencies and take control of vendor management, while improving your bottom line like our long-time customer MUY! has done.

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