Your non-profit, no matter the size, runs on an important currency: information. Yet, interviews with staff and volunteers in almost every organization reveal a discontent with the way information is, or is not, shared. Even relatively open and transparent organizations have blind spots, secrets, hidden agendas, and personal biases that mean that not all information is shared equally with everyone. That invariably leads to team members feeling left-out, underused, and undervalued. 

We could chalk this dynamic up to human nature, an unavoidable consequence of placing a group of humans into an organization. If knowledge is power, assembling people together means they will automatically create relationships that lead to imbalances of power. But this is a passive reaction, and it might reduce your organization’s ability to reach its potential.

Almost every leader and organization thinks of “information sharing” as the movement of packets, like managing electronic files. Instead, we need to think of information as a process, and our organizations as self-organizing systems of information. Margaret Wheatley writes, “One of an organization’s most critical competencies is to create the conditions that both generate new knowledge and help it to be freely shared.” She uses the metaphor of the human body to think about information; we replace our brain cells every 12 months, and yet our memories (largely!) persist.  

Even the top-down networks of the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps have evolved to allow information to move “horizontally” within and between units. Ray Dalio reveals how at Bridgewater Associates, “radical transparency” means they go so far as to record every meeting between every employee and make the recordings available to every other employee. Bridgewater became the largest and most successful (measured in profit for its investors) hedge fund in the world. How would you act, speak, and interact with your colleagues if everyone knew what you said?

What can you do in your organization to facilitate an open, dynamic, network of energy that allows information to generate and flow in organic ways? How can you create a culture that dispels older models of rigid information flows? How about weekly all-staff meetings with your executive director or CEO? How about “office hours” for top leaders, where anyone can stop in and share (and generate) information? Would a monthly all-staff email about wins (and losses) help? The time you put into building a network that shares information will prove returns of creativity, innovation, and strategic discipline.