Knowledge Transfer and Knowledge Creation in Virtual Teams

Knowledge Transfer and Knowledge Creation in Virtual Teams

Nory B. Jones (University of Maine, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9688-4.ch007
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Abstract

Tacit knowledge transfer and knowledge creation represents perhaps the best means of sustainable competitive advantage through continual innovation. As organizations become more distributed in their different offices, virtual teams become more common and valuable. The question of how these virtual teams can effectively transfer tacit knowledge and create new knowledge thus becomes of importance to organizations. This chapter focuses on this issue and presents supporting evidence related to tacit knowledge transfer and creation, virtual teams, and how businesses can effectively harness capacity of virtual teams to transfer valuable tacit knowledge and create new knowledge.
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I. Introduction

Teams are used in virtually every organization to improve productivity, responsiveness and effectiveness because of the synergies of bringing different expertise, talent and perspectives together. Virtual teams represent a growing part of the business environment given the globalization of business. They are normally defined as “groups of geographically and/or organizationally dispersed coworkers that are assembled using a combination of telecommunications and information technologies to accomplish an organizational task” (Berry, 2011, Page 187). A recent survey of businesses by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) (Minton-Eversole, 2012) demonstrated the pervasiveness of virtual teams in the workplace. In this study, they surveyed “379 randomly selected HR professionals from SHRM’s membership” and showed that almost half (46%) of the organizations surveyed used virtual teams. It was not surprising that their findings also showed multinational organizations were “more than twice as likely (66%) to use virtual teams compared with those with U.S.-based operations (28 percent).”

Some other interesting results from this study included: • Why they used virtual teams: 53%- “the need to include talent in different locations because their work is taking on a more global focus.” 59%- to increase collaboration throughout the organization, 39%- to improve productivity, 39%- to reduce travel time and costs. • Of the respondents, 50% of the public for-profit companies were likely to use virtual teams as well as 49% of private for-profit companies. Only 9% of government agencies were likely to use virtual teams. If we assume that this survey is representative of most businesses, we can infer that virtual teams are very important to businesses and probably increasing in use and importance as business continues to extend its reach in terms of customers, suppliers, and collaborative activities with other businesses. This form of virtual collaboration provides an organization with competitive advantage by combining the best core competencies of expertise across an organization (Romero et al., 2011). They further provide organizations with the ability to adapt quickly to changing environmental and competitive conditions by assembling virtual teams with specific expertise to respond rapidly to these dynamic markets (Klotz-Young, 2012). However, it is not enough to create virtual teams and assume that team members will effectively communicate, collaborate, share knowledge, innovate and achieve goals. Rather, there are many challenges associated with virtual teams. This chapter explores tacit knowledge transfer in virtual teams including the impact of culture and leadership, and concludes with some lessons learned from the literature on how to effectively manage virtual teams for effective tacit knowledge transfer. Why is this important? With business operating on a global scale, expertise and talent is usually not local. Therefore, businesses should learn how to leverage the knowledge and expertise of people anywhere any time for sustainable competitive advantage and continual improvement and innovation. One way to do this is to learn to harness the power of virtual teams in an effective way. This chapter attempts to share knowledge on this topic by searching the literature and presenting research on the topic in a reasonably comprehensive manner. The chapter concludes with an analysis of trends from this literature review.

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