When we think of documentation as a form of communication, it’s hard to find fault in any company whose culture leans more toward informal and synchronous comms instead. Seemingly, these are all just communication approaches, and to each their own as far as corporate culture is concerned.
This all sounds reasonable on the surface, yet it glazes over a fatal flaw in our assumption: documentation’s core value is not communication, but rather, commitment. Once we acknowledge the nuance of this definition, its impact on corporate culture becomes inescapable.
Documentation commits the expectations, boundaries, and consequences of teamwork, so that hire number 500 can have the same perspective as hire number five. It commits the actions taken up to a certain point, so we can blaze new trails or retrace our steps. It commits the values that motivate decisions and rewards, so hierarchies don’t trump transparency.
The commitment distinction is crucial because it takes accountability for the fact that communication will always happen, regardless of documentation. Some of a company’s most influential mantras may echo through the halls as ancient, anonymous gossip — a hallmark of toxic corporate culture.
“No one gets 5s in their evaluations here.” Is that true? Is it only true in some departments? Was it perhaps previously true, under different management? If it’s still true, why? Who said that? What happens if someone gets a 5? Is it safe to ask these questions?
Notice how the problem with this information isn’t that it hasn’t been communicated, but that it’s absolved of any accountability. That’s a bug in corporate culture, not a subjective trait — and it places an immense burden on top-down leadership structures to be hands-on across the business, which is why it’s both the easiest model to fall into at seed stage and the hardest to scale at growth stage.
Documentation Culture In Practice
If all this sounds like rhetorical theory, let’s look at it through a real-world lens to gain a more practical perspective:
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