Knowledge Sharing and Communities of Practice

Knowledge Sharing and Communities of Practice

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8318-1.ch011


Knowledge sharing is the most important mode of knowledge transfer in social contexts since it is based on the willingness of individuals to impart their experience with other people and not on managerial authority. Knowledge sharing depends on a supporting organizational culture and especially on organizational trust. Knowledge sharing can be enhanced by using the method of appreciative sharing of knowledge that focuses on the positive aspects of organizational phenomena and on building optimism. Since the essential factor in developing a culture of knowledge sharing is trust, the chapter presents some of the most significant conceptual models of the organizational trust. Communities of practice are social structures that have a high absorptive capacity for knowledge sharing. Although they have a rather fuzzy and fluid structure, coming into conflict with the ordered and hierarchical structure of organizations, they are of interest for managers for their enhanced capacity of innovation.
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In any organization knowledge is moving from one entity to another one continuously. Entities can be individuals, teams, offices, departments, divisions or any other managerial units. Knowledge motion is called generically knowledge transfer or knowledge flow, and it can be done in several ways: knowledge sharing, knowledge diffusion, knowledge convection, and knowledge radiation. While the concept of knowledge sharing (Davenport & Prusak, 2000; Hislop, 2005; Jashapara, 2011; Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995) is taken from social sciences, the concept of knowledge diffusion (Braunerhjelm, Acs, Audredtdch & Carlsson, 2010; Droege & Hoobler, 2003; Haldin-Herrgard, 2000; Morone & Taylor, 2004) has been taken metaphorically from thermodynamics.

The concepts of knowledge convection and knowledge radiation have not been used yet, but they can be taken metaphorically from thermodynamics. They are covered in the literature with knowledge sharing, although sometimes it is not adequately. In thermodynamics, heat transfer can be done by convection when the process involves a mass motion. In organizational knowledge dynamics, people move from one place to another one carrying with them cognitive, emotional and spiritual knowledge. When some of that knowledge is transferred to other people, we can consider a process of knowledge convection. In thermodynamics, the process of heat radiation does not involve any motion of mass, but a high difference between the temperatures of the two bodies. The best example may be the heat radiation we receive on the Earth from the Sun. When researchers will advance with their analyses in the dynamics of organizational knowledge, I am sure they will introduce in their language these new concepts of knowledge convection and knowledge radiation. Until then, we may use the general meaning of knowledge transfer and knowledge flow.

While knowledge diffusion refers to the process of propagation of knowledge through an organizational context like the heat within a physical body, knowledge sharing refers to “the process by which an individual imparts his or her knowledge (e.g., expertise, insight, or understanding in a tacit or explicit format) to a recipient” (Ford & Staples, 2010, p. 394). Knowledge sharing involves activities of transferring or disseminating knowledge from one person to another, to a group of people, or to the whole organization. According to Cyr and Choo (2010, p. 825), knowledge sharing in organizations may be viewed “as the behavior by which an individual voluntarily provides other members of the organization with access to his or her knowledge and experiences. Knowledge sharing encompasses a broad range of behaviors that are complex and multi-faceted.” Thus, knowledge sharing is a process that links the individual fields of knowledge to the team or organizational fields of knowledge along the ontological dimension, as shown by Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995). At the limit, when there is no knowledge sharing people’s behavior is characterized by knowledge hoarding (Cyr & Choo, 2010; Ford & Staples, 2010). Knowledge sharing is a voluntarily process but it depends on many personal and organizational factors, which may stimulate or inhibit it (Cyr & Choo, 2010; Ford & Staples, 2010; Goh & Hooper, 2009; Hislop, 2005; Nesheim & Gressgard, 2014; Reinholdt, Pederson & Foss, 2011; Sanchez, J.H., Sanchez, Y.H., Collado-Tuiz & Cebrian-Tarrason, 2013).

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