Implementing and maintaining a knowledge sharing culture via knowledge management teams: a shared leadership approach.

Author:Taylor, George


The need to effectively manage both organizational knowledge and organizational teams present both opportunity and challenge for the contemporary organization. In the area of knowledge management, the challenges range from creating and sustaining a knowledge management infrastructure, to effective employment of tools and systems, and navigation of organizational culture (Janz & Prasarnphanich, 2003; Lee & Choi, 2003). Related to organizational teams and work groups, the challenges include team leadership, identifying ways to achieve maximum productivity, developing and implementing shared vision and goals, and managing conflict (Hass & Hansen, 2007; Pearce & Ensley, 2004; Zaccaro, Rittman, & Marks, 2001). Accompanying those challenges is increased integration and employment of knowledge management processes and tools within organizational work teams. Yet, review of practitioner-based and academic research has produced very little insight in capturing knowledge management team behaviors that impact an organization's culture and contribute to the effective implementation and sustainment of knowledge management goals. Further, there is a lack of coherent practitioner insight that effectively brings forth how knowledge management teams can employ behaviors consistent with the principles of shared leadership within a team structure that has a positive impact toward achieving the organization's strategic goals (Pearce & Conger, 2003; Pearce & Sims, 2002; Proctor, 2010; Robb, 2003; Thompson, Nishant, Goh, & Agarwal, 2011). With this and based on practitioner experience of writer and colleagues in this area, it is considered important that an exploration into knowledge management teams and the principles of shared leadership be together considered with an objective of developing a conceptual model that can prove useful in developing an organizational framework to help facilitate knowledge management implementation efforts and support sustaining those efforts.

The specific aim of this six-part paper is to outline how an organization can implement knowledge management teams that have positive impact in creating and maintaining an organizational knowledge sharing culture via the integration of organizational teams and shared leadership principles. Part 1 provides an overview on knowledge management, shared leadership, and the role of teams in the organization, discussing the impact that these constructs and structure have on the organization's strategy and operations. Part 2 is a discussion that brings forth the factors and elements of a knowledge sharing culture, highlighting the impact and role of culture on an organization's ability to implement its knowledge management change efforts via knowledge management teams. Part 3 presents a conceptual model that highlights how an organization can implement knowledge management teams during its strategy and change management planning and execution processes. Part 4 outlines how knowledge management team practices can be identified and developed via the employment of shared leadership principles. Part 5 captures the cultural challenges faced by the organization while implementing knowledge management teams attempting to create a knowledge sharing culture and ways to address those challenges. Part 6 is a summary of the salient factors discussed in the aforementioned sections, and how together those factors support the implementation of knowledge management teams and the sustainment of their efforts in helping to create a knowledge sharing culture. The paper concludes by providing a way ahead for organizational leaders and managers as attempts are put forth to leverage, exploit, and expand the value created by knowledge management teams while also having an influence in helping to create and maintain a knowledge sharing culture.


The ability and need to gain, access, leverage, and exploit information to the organization's advantage in support of its organizational goals is an accepted axiom, and over the last three decades attention to the concept of knowledge management has attempted to gain some insight and clarity on how this can be achieved (Austin, Claassen, Vu & Mizrahi, 2008). Since being introduced as a major organizational theory and concept, various notions of what suffices as knowledge and how knowledge is optimally managed has received considerable attention and despite various views, a common objective across all organizations is that effective knowledge management is having an ability to strategically employ knowledge in an effort to gain an advantage in the marketplace (Austin, et al., 2008; Davenport, De Long, & Beers, 1998; Lee & Choi, 2003).

Over time knowledge management programs and projects served as vehicles to deliver tangible output while achieving systematic and process gains centered on the enablers of human capital and information systems technology (Austin et al., 2008; Davenport, 2011; Davenport et al., 1998). For example, a crucial underpinning and component of knowledge management was on the management of data and information and how information, sourced from individual and groups, is extrapolated, captured, stored, and exploited for future use within the organization (Alavi, Kayworth, & Leidner, 2006; Lee & Choi, 2003). Related to this management flow and access were the actual tools, processes, and systems that organizations employ that drive and enhance an organization's performance and help achieve it strategic aims. Some specific tools and processes include data repositories, knowledge and learning platforms and systems, and enterprise resource planning technology (Davenport et al., 1998; Lee & Choi, 2003; Thompson, Nishant, Goh, & Agarwal, 2011). In any case, knowledge management programs and projects along with the tools and systems have been a long standing point of contention and misunderstanding within organizational knowledge management initiatives. Evidence based upon experience and literature is the considerable impact and success of knowledge management programs and projects while other projects are classified as having more modest and incremental gains (Davenport et al., 1998; Lee & Choi, 2003; Smith, McKeen, & Singh, 2010). Specific questions and shared challenges across programs and projects centered on how some organizations could be well resourced in the area of knowledge management tools yet still fall short of its knowledge management goals. These questions and challenges led, in some cases, to more focused assessments on the role and impact of culture, strategy formulation and deployment, senior leadership commitment and sponsorship (Alavi et al., 2006; Davenport et al., 1998; Smith, et al,. 2010). What seems almost elusive are solid specific answers related to organizational knowledge management challenges arguably because there are so many contrasting views and emphasis of what suffices as knowledge management (Davenport et al., 1998; Lee & Choi, 2003). Yet, this does not negate the reality that the business case and strategic value of knowledge management known and in some cases well captured within the research and practitioner-oriented literature, provides empirical validated instances of bottom-line efficiency and top-line growth benefit to include product and service innovation, improved processes, organizational problem solving, and delivering on customer needs and expectations (Alavi et al., 2006; Davenport et al., 1998; Lee & Choi, 2003). As an example, HP's well documented efforts captured by Thompson et al. (2011) and Davenport et al. (1998) vividly demonstrate the strategic value of knowledge management when driven and supported by a knowledge sharing culture that is aligned with the organization's strategic aims--not to mention the sustained commitment to executives and senior leaders that believe in the value of knowledge management. Also evident within the literature is the role and significance of human capital, and more narrowly, the role of teams within the organization. Specifically, how organizational workforce members and teams convert tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge, what motivates them to do so, and what were the various means in which data and information is shared among team members and made available at the right place at the right time (O'Dell & Hubert, 2011; Thompson et al., 2011).

Shared Leadership Overview

Shared leadership, which is commonly credited to Yukl with rooted origins and related researching existing since the early 20th century, focuses on effective teams and work groups associated with humanistic organizational design (Pearce & Conger, 2003). The concept has experienced cycles of interest and periods of intensity and at its core, shared leadership is a dynamic, networked-based view of leadership occurring within teams above and beyond formal appointed leadership (Pearce & Conger, 2003; Pearce & Sims, 2002; Yukl, 1998). Shared leadership advances from a notion that vertical leadership although effective is enhanced when leadership is willingly shared between team members (Pearce & Sims, 2002). This sharing of leadership has the benefit of adding breadth and depth to team approaches, addressing team issues such as developing alternative solutions and contributing insight into shared influenced by team members performing in leadership roles based on the contextual circumstances and challenges faced by the team (Carson, Tesluk, & Marrone, 2007; Pearce & Sims, 2002). Shared leadership's application and focus relevant and related to team performance has also yielded insight into how the organizational leadership and team members can reach ideal levels of group performance in key areas such as task performance, change management implementation, and informal leadership (Carson et al., 2007; Pearce & Manz, 2011; Pearce & Sims, 2002). To summarize, one could state that the research and value of shared leadership has...

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