Knowledge Management is Relational

Engaging in reading literature and research of knowledge management continues to offer many philosophical questions of knowledge, the individual, and the collective. As Tsoukas (2001) points out, “it is not quite evident how knowledge becomes an individual possession and how it is related to individual action, nor is it clear in what sense knowledge merits the adjective organizational” (p. 974). The more I engage in thoughtful consideration of knowledge management, the more I return to the argument that these processes, whether tacit or explicit, are intrinsically relational.

customer-relationshipTsoukas (2001) characterizes organizations by their concrete settings, abstract rules, and historical communities. I want to emphasize community within this characterization in this post. In past blogs, I have described the importance of the individual in creating productive communities of knowledge. I maintain this view as I read of organizational stories, which include the narratives of employees and their managers and the subsequent interactions that take place (Colon-Aguirre, 2015). Talk about the importance of stories is crucial as the cultural knowledge within an organization is “central to the organization’s own existence” (Colon-Aguirre, 2015, p. 431).

Blackler (1995) largely supports activity theories that argue knowledge is constantly evolving due to the nuances of language among organizational members. He points out that language is essential for enabling collective interpretations, negotiating behavioral priorities, signaling group membership, and helping to create community. The importance of community is stressed in the description of knowing as a pragmatic tool for developing communal narratives in the face of expanded knowledge systems. Although this article was written before big data, I believe the importance of the individual contribution to the collective still rings true. Tsoukas (2001) supports this assertion by saying, “in knowledge management digitalization cannot be a substitute for socialization” (p. 991).

The culture of knowledge communities in organizations shapes the beliefs, norms, and values among organizational members (Colon-Aguirre, 2015). A great portion of the literature concerning knowledge management in organizations is inherently positive by nature. I have detailed the power of individuals in an almost motivational manner in prior blog posts. Despite my optimistic views of the ways we may bolster knowledge creation, sharing, and transfer, there are examples of negative knowledge behaviors in organizations. Connelly, Zweig, Webster, and Trougakos (2012) describe the nature of knowledge hiding, or “an intentional attempt by an individual to withhold or conceal knowledge that has been requested by another person” (p. 65). Hiding is not merely the absence of sharing – these attempts can include playing dumb, evasive hiding, and rationalized hiding. These behaviors may hinder the productivity and negatively affect the culture of an organization. cat hiding

So what may managers do to facilitate positive knowledge behavior and culture? Colon-Aguirre (2015) advocates for the use of organizational stories to employ change management, increase motivation through communication of triumphs and survival, perpetuate belief systems and attitudes based on organizational history. Emphasis on culture and the narratives within may aid in emphasizing shared identity, increasing employees opportunities for social interactions, and highlighting instances where trust has been created and nurtured (Connelly, Zweig, Webster, & Trougakos, 2012). This emphasis adds to the significance of heuristic knowledge described by Tsoukas (2001) in that organizational knowledge “crucially depends on employees’ experiences and perceptual skills, their social relations, and their motivation” (p. 990-991).

References

Blackler, F. (1995). Knowledge, knowledge work and organizations: An overview and interpretation. Organization Studies, 16(6), 1021-1046. doi:10.1177/017084069501600605

Connelly, C. E., Zweig, D., Webster, J., & Trougakos, J. P. (2012). Knowledge hiding in organizations. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 33(1), 64–88. doi:10.1002/job.737

Colon-Aguirre, M. (2015). Knowledge transferred through organizational stories: a typology. Library Management, 36(6/7), 421-433. doi:10.1108/LM-06-2014-0073

Tsoukas, H. (2001). What is organizational knowledge. Journal of Management Studies, 38(7), 973-993. doi:10.1111/1467-6486.00268

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