3 Ways to Create a Culture of Documentation

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By Walker Donohue

At many companies, documentation isn’t a core part of their internal operations, but a laborious chore to be managed; a way to prove that a meeting or conversation took place, never to be looked at again. However, the most productive, successful teams recognize obsessive documentation for what it truly is—an opportunity to work smarter and help your team focus on solving new problems, not mitigating the impact of old ones.

As valuable and impactful as documentation can be for teams of all sizes, it doesn’t happen by accident. Like any other aspect of managing your team, documentation should be a core facet of your corporate culture and an extension of your brand values. Yes, it takes time and effort to cultivate a culture of documentation, but doing so can have an incredible impact on your productivity and the dynamics of your team itself.

Let’s take a look at how you can start actually building a culture of documentation within your team.

Start with Standardization

One of the main reasons why documentation is so often overlooked is because most teams don’t have a standardized approach to getting it done. Who’s responsible for documenting what, exactly? What should that person do with that documentation, anyway?

When you get down to it, most of the resistance to documenting internal processes is rooted in a fundamental resistance to change. As the old adage says, everybody loves progress but nobody likes change. That’s why standardizing your documentation processes is so critical — by implementing predictable systems for documenting your work, you’re eliminating most of the ambiguity and uncertainty that makes people so resistant to change in the first place.

One of the best ways to start standardizing your documentation workflow is by using templates. Obviously, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for streamlining how and when you document the work your team does, but you can simplify the process by using templates as a starting point.

Standardized document templates reduce the cognitive overhead of actually documenting internal processes, because whoever is responsible for doing the documentation doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel after every meeting; they can adjust an existing template, document the work being done, and get on with their day. This approach is also much less disruptive because it doesn’t require a radical overhaul of how your team thinks. Rather than creating brand-new documents every time a process needs to be documented, your team can amend a simple template.

Another benefit of standardizing your documentation process is that it makes sharing important information much easier. When people in different teams or departments know what to expect from internal documentation, they’re more likely to share and actually use that information.

Build Living Documents That Grow with Your Company

Standardization is important, but so is recognizing that very few documents will stand the test of time as your company scales. Processes that may have worked well during your company’s scrappy startup phase may be entirely inappropriate for larger, more established teams. That’s why it’s crucial to create living documents that can grow alongside your company.

We have talked about some of the best places to store your documents on our site.

Living documents—documents that are updated over time—are crucial to any long-term documentation project. This is because not only do living documents make it easier to take note of changes as they happen, but they also eliminate the need to create multiple documents. They can also be linked together to create cohesive, relevant, up-to-date document hierarchies for complex projects, rather than forcing teams to rebuild entire libraries of documentation every time from scratch.

However, just because a document can—and should—evolve and grow with your team, it’s still important to approach living documents with standardized processes in mind. This helps minimize repeated work, eliminates potential redundancies across multiple documents, and ensures everybody knows what to expect.

Use Asynchronous Communication to Empower EVERY Member of Your Team

One of the major reasons why documentation falls by the wayside is because it is perceived as a top-down process; managers document internal processes, which the rest of the team is then expected to follow. This approach can work, but it’s much more effective to secure buy-in from everyone on the team by utilizing asynchronous communication and allowing every team member to contribute.

Fortunately, there are dozens of tools that make asynchronous communication effortless. Whichever tool you choose to use, it’s important that every member of your team is able and encouraged to actively contribute to your living documentation. If your team members can offer their own insights, thoughts, and suggestions to a document, they’re much more likely to do so—and this is crucial to building a culture of documentation, rather than merely implementing yet another task for your already busy team.

Asynchronous communication is practically mandatory for distributed and virtual teams. Communicating effectively across even smaller teams can be a major challenge when you introduce factors such as time zones, which increases the risk of losing valuable internal knowledge and expertise. The easier you make it for your team to share their insights, the greater the cumulative benefit to your team as a whole.

Incorporating this approach to documentation can also make your team members feel more valued. If managers or executives are the only ones who can create or amend your living documents, it can feel exclusionary to members of your team who may have genuinely great ideas or suggestions on how to improve internal processes. Allowing and encouraging every member of your team helps your company grow, but it also helps those team members feel appreciated and that their ideas have value.

Better Documentation Makes for Better Teams

Documentation might not be the most exciting aspect of your work, but it can have an immense impact on your team’s productivity, cohesion, and overall happiness. It becomes especially important if your team or company is still in an active growth stage, particularly when branching out into new products, service areas, or industries.

By standardizing document creation and working asynchronously to keep living documents up-to-date, you’re making an invaluable investment in your team’s future success.


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