Zipteam Blog

Product updates, industry trends, and what we learned from building Zipteam.
Building the skills layer of collaboration

Building the skills layer of collaboration

Daisuke Nishimura

Most of you have probably struggled with a problem, worked on it for days, or even hired a consultant, only to find out that there's someone in your company who already has a solution. We've been there too. That’s how we came up with the idea for Zipteam.

The promise of Zipteam is that you can search people by expertise within your company. You could be a product manager looking for insights from subject matter experts, a developer looking for advice on the right technology for the next project, or a B2B sales professional looking for someone who can help them answer a prospect's question. Our goal is to help you find the right expert at any moment.

To achieve this, Zipteam needs to collect data about knowledge.

What's knowledge?

Knowledge can generally be divided into two types: explicit and tacit.

Explicit knowledge is "codified" knowledge that can be easily shared through various media. The knowledge base is a good example of how explicit knowledge is managed in an organization. The problem with this approach is that it's overly dependent on experts and generally difficult to maintain, resulting in limited and outdated information for knowledge seekers.

Tacit knowledge is context-specific knowledge that cannot be articulated and is therefore difficult to communicate. A good example of this is skills. Skills are specific to each job, and documenting them is usually futile. When people turn to experts instead of asking on Slack or Q&A sites, they usually want access to this tacit knowledge.

Zipteam collects data about tacit knowledge in the form skills data.

"We can know more than we can tell." - Michael Polanyi

Skills in the workplace

When we pitched this idea to our friends and colleagues, most pointed out that skills data already exists on LinkedIn.

In the first year of development, we learned that skills play a different role in the workplace than they do in the talent marketplace. In the talent marketplace, skills are used to match people with jobs. Skills are generalized as much as possible so they can be recognized by a wide range of employers and job seekers. 

In workplace collaboration, skills are used to find internal experts. Skills are expected to have more context so you can be sure he/she has the right knowledge you're looking for. Also, it's important to note that each company has its own skill taxonomy, with names ranging from the name of the internal engineering tool to the business skills defined by the company.

Here's the design decision we made to meet the skills requirements in the workplace:

  • Manage user skills data in graph model for context retention.
  • Isolate skills namespace per each tenant (workspace).
Skills in the workplace vs. talent marketplace
Skills in the workplace vs. talent marketplace

The expert problem

The network on Zipteam consists of two sides - knowledge seekers and experts. One of our biggest challenges is making this two-sided network work. Zipteam offers obvious benefits for knowledge seekers, but what about experts? Wouldn't experts be bombarded with questions? Why would they enter their skills?

We live in a time of lifelong learning. A person can be an expert in one area, but they also need to be a knowledge seeker in another area and learn from other experts. That's why we decided early on not to distinguish the two sides at the user level. It's meant for people who're constantly switching between knowledge seekers and experts.

Still, it's important to remove the friction for experts to create the flywheel of the product. Zipteam has two mechanisms to achieve this: Records and Collaborative Skills Management.

Records are created when users interact with each other and allow experts to track and measure their contribution. Zipteam helps organizations identify experts who contribute as mentors, advisors, etc.

Collaborative skills management allows users to add skills to each other for review. While self-reporting is the predominant form of skills reporting in the talent marketplace, we found that skills reporting in the workplace is more collaborative. For example, Alice might contact Bob because she learned from Charlie that he's an expert. With collaborative skills management, Charlie and Alice can add skills for Bob so that he can be found by other knowledge seekers.

Collaborative skills management is important because it's a way to reduce the burden on experts. Suppose a senior engineer is helping a group of junior engineers with serverless technology. If she finds someone who also knows serverless, she can simply add severless to the person's skills graph so that he, too, can be found by knowledge seekers. This way, the load is shared among all the experts in the company.

One of the advantages of Zipteam over traditional skills management is that you can collect credible skills data. Users are discouraged from entering skills for the purpose of self-promotion, knowing that the skills will be verified by the network. Users need to enter skills that they can actually help their peers with. This in turn gives knowledge seekers the assurance that the search results are credible.

Value for HR

In addition to knowledge seekers and experts, there's a third side to the Zipteam network - HR. Until now, it's been very costly for HR to manage employee skills. The annual top-down survey wasn't an incentive for employees to enter their skills, let alone update them.

Zipteam's bottom-up approach can help HR collect rich and credible data on employee skills. This would allow HR to implement a variety of programs based on skills data such as the following: 

  • Reskilling & upskilling program
  • Internal mobility program
  • Mentorship and peer-to-peer learning program

What’s next

We are just launching our beta. Please sign up and let us know what you think.


Q: Is it free of charge?

A: Yes. It will eventually be a freemium model.

Q: Is it suitable for large enterprises?

A: We believe Zipteam can actually benefit any distributed teams! Please give it a try.