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Trends, issues and challenges in knowledge management and sharing: research review

A systematic review1 published in the journal Cogent Business & Management highlights the possible antecedents and factors facilitating or impeding knowledge management and knowledge sharing in organizations. A meta-review of 64 relevant articles published across the years 2010-2015 was conducted. Both quantitative and qualitative studies were included.

The researchers note that:

Cooperation bias was the most frequent limitation in most studies included in this meta-review as the respondents were likely to over-estimate their participation in knowledge management (KM) and knowledge sharing (KS).

Summary of findings

Antecedents and factors that facilitate knowledge management and sharing:

  1. Trust is the most important determinant of knowledge sharing and transfer.
  2. The presence of rewards and motivation facilitates knowledge sharing and transfer.
  3. Organizational structure is an important factor that facilitates or impedes the transfer of knowledge in the organization.
  4. Social relations motivate individuals in an organization to act in such a way to benefit each other. Knowledge exchange often occurs in organizations through face-to-face communication and social capital.
  5. Tie strength, network centrality, and density of a network tend to affect the knowledge transfer process, in the context of different cultures.
  6. Culture has been identified as one of the most important factors that enables or impedes knowledge sharing and transfer. Culture refers to a system of beliefs rooted in the society and expressed through the behavior of people and organizations.
  7. Culture acts as an antecedent to knowledge sharing, for example, innovative, community, and bureaucratic cultures tend to have a positive effect on knowledge-sharing behaviors.
  8. Knowledge-centered culture has been identified as an important antecedent to knowledge sharing in individuals with high levels of trust propensity.
  9. Openness to change has been studied extensively in the Arabian context and has been identified as an important cultural attribute that facilitates knowledge exchange.
  10. Communication not only promotes voluntary knowledge-sharing behavior, but it also increases the transfer of knowledge from one subsidiary to another. Communication has also been studied as an important variable with respect to knowledge transfer in highly turbulent environments, as well as in the context of cross-functional teams. Communication is found to be closely associated with workspace structure, as knowledge-sharing practices of employees rely on proximity which subsequently affects communication.
  11. Sometimes, individuals in an organization possess knowledge, but they tend to hide that knowledge. Psychological ownership has been identified as the most related variable of knowledge hiding.
  12. The willingness to share knowledge depends on the emotions as well as the empathy of the sharer, and in the case of multinational organizations, the willingness of the subsidiary to transfer knowledge to the headquarter has a significant effect on the process of knowledge transfer. Those individuals who are willing to share and transfer knowledge must be recognized fairly through extrinsic and intrinsic rewards.
  13. Information technology has been identified as a major knowledge-sharing enabler.
  14. Top management support has been recognized as an important enabler of knowledge sharing.
  15. Leadership plays a significant role in promoting knowledge sharing and transfer in the organization.

Antecedents and factors that are barriers to knowledge management and sharing:

  1. Lack of trust among individuals is the biggest barrier that inhibits sharing of knowledge with others in the organization.
  2. Lack of incentives and rewards systems can hinder knowledge sharing and transfer, and motivation plays an important role for the knowledge sharer.
  3. Organizational culture has been recognized as a significant barrier to knowledge sharing. Power distance and individualism / collectivism are two of Hofstede’s cultural dimensions that are important factors affecting knowledge sharing and transfer.
  4. Hofstede’s cultural dimensions have been studied extensively in China. A culture of high power distance, low individualism, higher masculinity, and high uncertainty avoidance acts as a barrier toward knowledge sharing and transfer in Chinese organizations, as it prevents individuals from risk-taking and experimentation.
  5. When it comes to transferring knowledge across a dissimilar culture, openness to diversity comes into play.
  6. When there is lack of time and workload is heavy, sharing and transfer of knowledge become difficult. Researchers have identified heavy workload as the major reason for having limited or no time for knowledge sharing.
  7. Lack of technology hinders the successful sharing and transfer of knowledge, which confirms it as a barrier.
  8. Insufficient support of top management and the presence of poor leadership hinder the successful sharing and transfer of knowledge in an organization. However, leadership style has been found to have no effect on knowledge sharing in China, a collectivist culture.
  9. Lack of organizational commitment acts as a barrier in knowledge sharing and transfer in the organization. There are three components of organizational commitment known as affective, normative, and continuance commitments.
  10. An employee can go through all types of commitments during his/her tenure in an organization at capricious degrees. Affective commitment can be defined as the degree to which an individual is emotionally attached to his/her employer organization. Normative commitment is the degree to which employees feel obliged to the organization. Continuance commitment, on the other hand, is related to an individual’s emphasis on perceived or calculated costs in regard to the employing organization.
  11. Lack of absorptive capacity has been identified as a barrier to knowledge sharing and transfer. Absorptive capacity can be defined as the ability of an individual to exploit external sources of knowledge.
  12. Other identified barriers include: change in technology, lack of discussion boards, lack of resources; uniqueness of knowledge which has been studied as a significant related variable of partial knowledge sharing; lack of appropriate systems and an absence of coordination; lack of attention and appreciation, and fear of being foolish; ambiguity in the content and context of knowledge, along with the uncertainty; degree of tacitness in regard to knowledge sharing with social web tools; and lack of socialization among colleagues.

Future directions

  1. Regardless of the contribution of numerous authors on knowledge sharing and transfer, there’s still much to be explored.
  2. Knowledge sharing and transfer have been studied mostly in developed countries; studies in the same context can be conducted in developing countries.
  3. There is little evidence of research regarding knowledge sharing and transfer in the education sector; therefore, this sector can be explored further.
  4. The role of affective and cognitive trust in sharing and transferring knowledge can be explored further.
  5. The role of social media and web 2.0 technological tools can be explored in promoting knowledge sharing and transfer.
  6. Online knowledge sharing and transfer in different cultural contexts and organizations can be studied.
  7. Knowledge sharing and transfer across hierarchical levels in an organization can be explored. In this regard, the impact of organizational politics on knowledge sharing and transfer can be revealed.
  8. Attitude and behaviors of knowledge sharers and receivers can be studied particularly in a political environment.
  9. What problems an organization is likely to face if knowledge is not shared or transferred within organization and its subsidiaries, across the globe, can be studied in detail.
  10. The impact of national culture can be studied in the context of knowledge sharing and transfer.
  11. Knowledge sharing and transfer also depend on the individual characteristics of the knowledge sharer and receiver. This concept can be investigated further.
  12. Communication is assumed to be the facilitator of knowledge sharing and transfer. However, communication quality and quantity that are necessary to facilitate knowledge sharing and transfer can be studied. Furthermore, various formal and informal communication tools, at organizational level, can be investigated.

References:

  1. Muhammad Asrar-ul-Haq & Sadia Anwar (2016). A systematic review of knowledge management and knowledge sharing: Trends, issues, and challenges. Cogent Business & Management, 3, 1127744.

Bruce Boyes

Bruce Boyes (www.bruceboyes.info) is editor, lead writer, and a director of the award-winning RealKM Magazine (www.realkm.com) and currently also teaches in the University of NSW (UNSW) Foundation Studies program in China. He has expertise and experience in a wide range of areas including knowledge management (KM), environmental management, program and project management, writing and editing, stakeholder engagement, communications, and research. Bruce holds a Master of Environmental Management with Distinction and a Certificate of Technology (Electronics). With a demonstrated ability to identify and implement innovative solutions to social and ecological complexity, Bruce's many career highlights include establishing RealKM Magazine as an award-winning resource for knowledge managers, using agile and knowledge management approaches to oversee the implementation of an award-winning $77.4 million river recovery program in western Sydney on time and under budget, leading a knowledge strategy process for Australia's 56 natural resource management (NRM) regional organisations, pioneering collaborative learning and governance approaches to support communities to sustainably manage landscapes and catchments, and initiating and teaching two new knowledge management subjects at Shanxi University in China.

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