How to interview employees for their knowledge

Interviewing employees to capture their knowledge with the aim of creating a team knowledge site can be a difficult task to do. This work sits at the intersection between sociology, business operations, and of course technology. A great interviewer will be comfortable with applying to all of those fields.

However, with enough preparation and practices, these interviews can be fun and empowering. This article aims to help you learn how to execute the interviews very well.

Setting up

It’s recommended to interview one or more team members from each role, and at least one from each time within each department. Examples of roles are junior designer, senior consultant, materials machinist, HR manager, and so on.

You should always interview one person at a time if possible, however you could interview up to 3 people at a time, as long as they have the same role / job within the organisation, and are at the same rank or level.

Interviews should be conducted within the employees’ workplace, but in a private office or conference room.

You will need at least one hour with each person, but more likely 2 or 3 hours per role if you’re able to interview multiple people in the same or similar roles.

Your process of setting them up should be to speak to the individuals one at a time and agree on a time, put it in your calendar or schedule and set a reminder, then send a reminder to the person you’ll be interviewing a day or a few hours before meeting with them.

Conducting them

When interviewing someone, they need to be focussed on you; not answering emails, working on a project, or anything else. If they start some other activity while you’re interviewing them, remind them that you need their full focus so that you don’t have to have multiple meetings with them.

When starting the interview, ask them for their full attention, and ask them to speak freely and honestly. Then explain why you’re interview them, and how the whole process works.

Explain why you're interviewing them, and how it will work. Ask them to tell you their background - including what they studied - and how they got into industry and their particular job.

Ask what concerns they have going into this, and address them right away. Don’t avoid any worries they may have.

Then you’re ready to begin asking questions that help you understand their job. See our “Interviewing team members - Questions to ask” document as a guideline.

After asking a question, stay quiet to give them time to think. When explaining is difficult for them, suggest that they pretend you're a new team member learning the task for the first time, or a colleague who needs a refresher on how to perform the task.

If you like to take notes by typing rather than writing, consider using Workflowy; it’s fantastic for this sort of fast note taking and organising ideas. Feel free to use our referral link to start off with double the storage per month.

When a process or system is complicated, it’s often valuable to create a diagram that illustrates how things fit together. For a simple diagramming tool, we recommend Google Drawings. For a more powerful and flexible tool, we recommend the excellent Lucid Chart.

For physical activities that are done away from a computer, it’s often very valuable to take a video of them doing the task. You might need to try several times to get it succinct and mistake-free.

For activities done on a computer, take screenshots at key points in the process, or create a screencast of the process, which is basically a video of their screen.

If the person speaks or moves too fast, just ask them to slow down to your note-taking pace.

As you progress, show them your notes, which will help them spot mistakes or missing details.

Stop them when they go into too much detail. If the detail is important though, consider taking a video of the process or just taking photos instead.

Checklist at the end (needs half an hour)

Towards the end of the interview, ask them when important documents they use in their job might not have been mentioned and discussed yet.

Lastly, ask them; “If you become sick and someone has to replace you, how much do you currently know that they would need to learn? What of that knowledge can we still write down?”

Wrapping it up

Ask them how the team knowledge site could be integrated into their daily work, such as into the software they use regularly, or their diary or schedule if they have one. If this isn’t clear, ask what thing they look at on a daily basis, and ask how a note could be added to it reminding them to use the site.

Finally, thank them for their time and help. Be sincere and genuinely appreciative.

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