Brain power

How best to share knowledge in interdisciplinary teams

Originally posted on The Horizons Tracker.

Interdisciplinary teams are an increasingly common feature in the modern workplace, yet such teams are also difficult to manage as they have so many contrasting points of view, and even ways of communicating, that render effective team work challenging.

Effective sharing of knowledge is therefore key, and new research1 from the University of Göttingen provides some guidance on how this can best be achieved.

“We observed two fundamental patterns of knowledge exchange and integration in interdisciplinary research teams,” they explain. “The first, which we refer to as the “theory-method interdisciplinary collaboration pattern”, involves one party providing a theoretical understanding, and the other offering methods for collecting and analysing the data. The second, which we called the “technical interdisciplinary collaborative pattern”, is characterised by the exchange of learning tools such as algorithms and technical know-how to solve a shared research question.”

These patterns emerged from a number of experiments into interdisciplinary collaborative projects at a German university.  The research aimed to explore the cognitive and collaborative work of the teams to understand how they function.

“Using the cognitive mapping method, the participants were able to show how the ideas and knowledge of the team members were being shared in collaborative exchange and integrated into a common knowledge structure,” the researchers say.

From this, the researchers were able to develop some clear recommendations for how teams can work together.  For instance, they found that agreeing on certain things up front was crucial, including the goals of the individuals and the collective, the heuristics for communication and the various research tools that would be used.  These should be established at the kick-off meeting.

“They also need to discuss the understanding of their basic concepts – which is usually different! Further on in the course of the project, it is helpful to explicitly agree on the way in which research results are to be integrated,” the researchers say.

While the research focused primarily on the scientific community, these recommendations are probably broad enough to have benefits for teams from a wide variety of fields.

Article source: How Best To Share Knowledge In Interdisciplinary Teams.

Header image source: National Eye Institute on Flickr, CC BY 2.0.


  1. Dai, L. H., & Boos, M. (2019). Mapping the right fit for knowledge sharing. Nature, 575(7783).
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Adi Gaskell

I'm an old school liberal with a love of self organizing systems. I hold a masters degree in IT, specializing in artificial intelligence and enjoy exploring the edge of organizational behavior. I specialize in finding the many great things that are happening in the world, and helping organizations apply these changes to their own environments. I also blog for some of the biggest sites in the industry, including Forbes, Social Business News, Social Media Today and, whilst also covering the latest trends in the social business world on my own website. I have also delivered talks on the subject for the likes of the NUJ, the Guardian, Stevenage Bioscience and CMI, whilst also appearing on shows such as BBC Radio 5 Live and Calgary Today.

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