What determines the willingness of your team members to share information? What are you doing about it?

Before, we can address the question, we need to think, from the perspective of a manager, why should you care about the questions I’ve asked?

The importance of knowledge sharing on the performance of a team can be associated the benefits of being a learning organisation. Senge proposes, learning organizations are where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together. The characteristics of a learning organisation include “a real commitment, interpersonal skills, genuine caring and trust, the collective intelligence and the ability to create a greater range of caring beyond the immediate welfare of individuals” (Wen (2014:260)).

Within the context of e-learning teams, which integrate with other teams these are important questions.

Knowledge sharing is part of effective knowledge management. Shahzad et al., (2013) divides knowledge management into four broad categories;

  • creation: the ability to produce useful, novel ideas in order to develop business solutions.
  • sharing: the transfer of knowledge between and within organisation members, teams and departments
  • acquisition: the process of acquiring knowledge from outside the organisation or team
  • codification: the process by which the knowledge creation, sharing and acquisition is stored as organisational knowledge

Knowledge can be viewed as tacit and explicit. For instance, “knowledge that is uttered, formulated in sentences, and captured in drawings and writing is explicit. Explicit knowledge has a universal character, supporting the capacity to act across contexts. Explicit knowledge is accessible through consciousness. Knowledge tied to the senses, tactile experiences, movement skills, intuition, unarticulated mental models, or implicit rules of thumb is “tacit.” Tacit knowledge is rooted in action, procedures, routines, commitment, ideals, values, and emotions” (Nonaka and Krogh (2009:636). The implication is there is a continuum between tacit and explicit, however, the process of converting or codifing tacit to explicit knowledge within an organisation and/or sub group is very complex.

Gross and Kluge (2012) test a model to predict knowledge sharing behaviour (Figure 1). The model suggests the likelihood of knowledge sharing is an outcome of individual and organisation factors.

Figure 1: Predictive Knowledge Sharing Behaviour Model


Applied from Gross and Kluge (2012:404)

When tested, the significant factors within the model were the “individual factors of subjective norms and self-efficacy serve as relevant predictors of intention … organisational communication and social ties were found to be predictors of knowledge sharing behaviour” (Gross and Kluge 2012:406). Even with the limitations of the study (one company, in one specific industry) it does propose potential interventions by the organisation, (team leader and manager) to promote an organisation-wide communication strategy and foster closer social ties within the workforce.

Wasko and Faraj (2005) explore the determinants of sharing within an electronic network of practice. The large scale study applies both a survey and content analysis methodology to draw the following conclusion, “people contribute there knowledge when they perceive that it enhances their professional reputation, when they have experience to share, and when they are structurally embedded (length of time in the industry)” Wasko and Faraj (2005:35). They speculate, although electronic networks of practice do not have the same characteristics as a face to face community of practice, (such as teams), the determinants would still be similar.

Lam (2005) in Swart et al., (2014), explores the importance of organisational culture as a determinant. The findings support the conventional wisdom where in organisations characterised by competition and mistrust, workers are less wiling to share knowledge. The importance of organisation culture is explored by Cross and Pursak (2007) who explore the idea of knowledge as a tradable commodity within teams, with buyers, sellers and brokers. They acknowledge the market is imperfect, and the price mechanism is based on reciprocity, repute and altrusim. The price mechanism is underpinned by power and trust relationships within the organisation. The importance of their work for a manager is the analysis illustrates how inclusion of power and trust factors into social network analysis significantly reduces the number of evident connections within the workforce.

Shazhad et al., (2013), explore a theoretical relationship between a persons willingness to share knowledge as an outcome of the organisational vision. They propose a strong, well understood vision will increase willingness and motivation of an individual to achieve the organisational vision through knowledge sharing, creation, acquisition and documentation. While a weak organisational vision might actually act as a physic prison (Shazhad (2012)), and reduce knowledge sharing.

When exploring factors internal to the person, Swart et al., (2014) found an affective commitment to the team and profession is positively related to the tendency to share knowledge, as is a sense of obligation to the organisation.

The emerging message that organisations can be proactive in stimulating knowledge sharing is also evident from Lee, Tsai and Amjadi (2012). They pilot a community based (people-orientated) knowledge management model. Where the organisation developed technical knowledge communities, as the organisation “recognised that useful knowledge could only emerge and be transferred through effective real-time interactions” (Lee, Tsai and Amjadi (2012:35)). The interesting observations from the pilot was it did not employ a simple community of practice model, but behaved more as a learning set with defined members, time-based activities, required direct participation and included an evaluation element. The outcomes identify knowledge sharing as an interaction which emerges from the bottom up, the community accommodates connections and collaboration, and shapes the collective identity.

Within this framework the role of opinion leaders becomes crucial. Cho, Hwang and Lee (2011) propose that opinion leaders are people within a social network who affect the diffusion and adoption of ideas and innovations, through influencing other people’s choices. The importance of opinion leaders within small, well defined work groups was highlighted by Gabbay and Le May (2004), who explore collectively constructed “mindlines” within knowledge management within Primary Care. They found a key influence on clinicians choices was the sharing of tacit knowledge with a range of sources, including opinion leaders. Interestingly, they rarely accessed and used explicit evidence from research. This led to one of the conclusions, around the need in small, well defined working groups to identify the opinion leader and ensure they are provided quality assured information.

However, our understanding of the individual factors is clouded by Leonardi and Treem (2012: 37) who identified within a study of IT Technicians, that “knowledge management systems are not simply containers of information, but stages upon which individuals enact performances of expertise”. In other words, workers strategically crafted their own information (self presentation) to position themselves as experts compared to their co-workers.

In conclusion, the literature of knowledge sharing implies,

  1. it is evident knowledge sharing is a complex people orientated activity
  2. there are both organisational and individual factors influencing individual behaviour

Reflective Questions for Managers and Team Leaders

  • Are you aware and understand the how your team members are sharing information?
  • How are you building trust relationships within your team?
  • How are you fostering closer social ties within your team?
  • Have you an effective “team focused” communication strategy?
  • To what extent is your team working collaboratively?


Cho, Y., Hwang, J. and Lee, D. (2012) ‘Identification of effective opinion leaders in the diffusion of technological innovation: A social network approach’, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 79(1), pp. 97–106.

Cross, R. and Prusak, L. (2005) ‘The Political Economy of Knowledge Markets in Organisations’, in Easterby-Smith, M. and Lyles, M., Easterby-Smith, M. (ed.) The Blackwell handbook of organizational learning and knowledge management. 1st edn. United Kingdom: Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated, pp. 454–472.

Gabbay, J. (2004) ‘Evidence based guidelines or collectively constructed “mindlines?” Ethnographic study of knowledge management in primary care’, BMJ, 329(7473).

Gross, N. and Kluge, A. (2012) ‘“Why should I share what I know?”-Antecedents for enhancing knowledge-sharing behavior and its impact on shared mental models in steel production’, Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting, 56.

Kaiser, C., Kröckel, J. and Bodendorf, F. (2012) ‘Simulating the spread of opinions in online social networks when targeting opinion leaders’,Information Systems and e-Business Management. Springer, 11(4).

Von Krogh, G. (2005) ‘Knowledge Sharing and the Communal Resource’, in Easterby-Smith, M. and Lyles, M., Easterby-Smith, M. (ed.)The Blackwell handbook of organizational learning and knowledge management. 1st edn. United Kingdom: Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated, pp. 372–292.

Lee, C.-F., Tsai, D.-H. and Amjadi (2011) ‘The Adaptive Approach: Reflections on Knowledge Management Models’, Journal of Management Inquiry, 21(1), pp. 30–41.

Leonardi, P. and Treem, J. (2012) ‘Knowledge management technology as a stage for strategic self-presentation: Implications for knowledge sharing in organizations’, Information and Organization, 22(1), pp. 37–59.

Nonaka, I. and von Krogh, G. (2009) ‘Perspective—Tacit Knowledge and Knowledge Conversion: Controversy and Advancement in Organizational Knowledge Creation Theory’, Organization Science, 20(3), pp. 635–652.

Shahzad, K. (2012) ‘Vision or Psychic Prison’, Business Intelligence Journal, Vol 5, No 2.

Shahzad, K., Shahid, Z. and Haris, A. (2013) ‘Role of organizational vision and adaptability in knowledge management’, Problems and Perspectives in Management, Vol., 11, Issue 2.

Valante, T. and Davis, R. (1999) ‘Accelerating the Diffusion of Innovations using Opinion Leaders’, The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 566(1), pp. 55–67.

Swart, J., Kinnie, N., van Rossenberg, Y. and Yalabik, Z. (2014) ‘Why should I share my knowledge? A multiple foci of commitment perspective’, Human Resource Management Journal, 24(3), pp. 269–289.

Wasko, M. and Faraj, S. (2005) ‘Why Should I share? Examining social capital and knowledge contribution in electronic networks of practice’,MIS Quarterly, 29(1), pp. 35–57.

Van Wijk, R., van Den Bosch, F. and Volberda, H. (2005) ‘Knowledge and Networks’, in Easterby-Smith, M. and Lyles, M., Easterby-Smith, M. (ed.) The Blackwell handbook of organizational learning and knowledge management. 1st edn. United Kingdom: Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated, pp. 428–453.


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