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).


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

Knowledge Transfer & Social Capital

Navigating the nuances of organizational knowledge management is often challenging. I find myself toying with the idea that we take knowledge for granted. Maybe the complexities of knowledge are just too much – individual, collective, explicit, tacit, organized, mediated, structured – the list goes on. In a recent exchange about potential changes to the scholarly peer review process, this complexity became apparent. Without people, there is no knowledge management. I know this is a bold statement, but I charge you to think about what the world would be like in the absence of those who organize our contributions to science. A world without librarians? No, thank you. Creating, sharing, and transferring knowledge is inherently human, existing in our realities and relationships.


Nahapiet and Ghoshal (1998) present a theoretical frame for the ways in which human, intellectual, and social capital intertwine in the processes of creating and sharing knowledge. It is important to discern each of these types of capital to recognize the unique contribution of each to knowledge. Human capital refers to acquired knowledge, skills, and capabilities that enable novel interaction. Intellectual capital refers to a larger social collectivity of knowledge and expertise of knowing, in particular, the types of knowledge and the levels of analysis and knowing. Types of knowledge include “know-how” and “procedural” knowledge, which are critical to knowledge continuity (Dalkir, 2010). Spender (1996) presents a matrix for understanding the levels of analysis and knowing, which “concerns the degree to which it is possible to consider a concept of organizational, collective, or social knowledge that is different from that of individual, organizational members” (Nahapiet & Ghoshal, 1998, p. 246). These categories, which discern the explicit and the tacit, include conscious, automatic, objectified, and collective knowledge. Conscious knowledge refers to facts, concepts, and frameworks stored and retrieved from memory or records. Automatic knowledge is theoretical and practical, often in the form of different kinds of artistic, athletic, or technical skills. Objectified knowledge is a collection of explicit knowledge. Collective knowledge is “embedded in the forms of social and institutional practice, and that resides in the tacit experiences and enactment of the collective” (Nahapiet & Ghoshal, 1998, p. 247). All of these integral elements combine to form intellectual capital.

Social capital is a more complex, multidimensional construct that includes structural, relational, and cognitive dimensions (Nahapiet & Ghoshal, 1998). The structural dimension refers to the overall pattern of connections including network ties, network configuration, and appropriable organization. Th relational dimension reflects how relationships influence behavior. These relationships are affected by trust, norms, obligations, and identification. Lastly, the cognitive dimension refers to resources that facilitate shared languages, codes, and narratives. From an organizational perspective, intellectual and social capital are critical to organizational advantage. In reflecting on these types of capital, it is important to recognize that knowledge must transfer from the individual to the collective, from tacit to explicit, and vice versa in order to foster Hara’s (2009) common language.

knowledge sharingKnowledge transfer is inherent in many of the above categories and dimensions of social and intellectual capital. Knowledge transfer “is the process through which one unit (e.g., group, department, or division) is affected by the experience of another.” ( Argote & Ingram, 2000, p. 151). As we know, knowledge is anchored in many organizational functions including its tools, technology, tasks, relationships, and networks. The embedded nature of knowledge affects the way it is transferred to organizations including (1) characteristics of the source of knowledge, the recipient, the context, and the knowledge itself, (2) causal ambiguity, (3) the characteristics of individual members (i.e., ability and motivation), and (4) the strong and weak ties in social networks.

Lucas (2005) utilizes social information processing theory to argue that “prior experiences help us to determine what accurately reflects the facts and what does not” (p. 89). More importantly, Lucas (2005) demonstrates the significance of social capital in knowledge transfer, namely the relational dimension, in a study investigating a Fortune 500 company. He discovered the importance of trust and the reputation of knowledge providers and recipients.  Lucas (2005) also explains that dilemmas in knowledge transfer may occur as a direct result of technology, which supports the significance of relational, structural, and cognitive social capital. He maintains that “access to information does not guarantee its use. There must be some other basis upon which trust is developed” (p. 97).

No matter how technology progresses, people create trust in and build a reputation for organizational knowledge management systems.


Argote, L, & Ingram, P. (2000). Knowledge transfer: A basis for competitive advantage in firms. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 82(1), 150-169. doi:10.1006/obhd.2000.2893

Dalkir, K. (2010). Knowledge management. Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science (3rd Ed.). doi:10.1081/E-ELIS3-120043816

Hara, N. (2009). Communities of practice: Fostering peer-to-peer learning and informal knowledge sharing in the work place. Information Science and Knowledge Management (Vol. 13). Berlin: Springer-Verlag.

Lucas, L. M. (2005). The impact of trust and reputation on the transfer of best practices. Journal of Knowledge Management, 9(4), 87-101. doi:10.1108/13673270510610350

Nahapiet, J., & Ghoshal, S. (1998). Social capital, intellectual capital, and the organizational advantage. The Academy of Management Review, 23(2), 242-266.

Spender, J. C. (1996). Making knowledge the basis of a dynamic theory of the firm. Strategic Management Journal, 17, 45–62. doi:10.1002/smj.4250171106