Project Manager @ NOV Seabox
12.10.2017, 09:50:13 (GMT+1)

How to share Tacit Knowledge

Dynamics of Tacit Knowledge Sharing

Knowledge Management (KM) is a very important part of the Innovation and can be defined as the process of creating, sharing, using and managing the knowledge and information of an organization. In fact, KM is about learning in an organization. It refers to a multidisciplinary approach to achieving organizational objectives by making the best use of knowledge (Wikipedia).

KM has two main domains: Explicit Knowledge and Tacit Knowledge. The explicit domain consists of knowledge which can be transferred to others in written form. The Tacit domain consist of knowledge and information which is part of a human being’s mental evaluation and which cannot be transferred to others in written form.

The term "tacit knowing" or "tacit knowledge" is attributed to Michael Polanyi in 1958 in his work “Personal Knowledge”. In his later work “The Tacit Dimension” he made the assertion that "we can know more than we can tell. He states not only that there is knowledge that cannot be adequately articulated by verbal means, but also that all knowledge is rooted in tacit knowledge (Wikipedia)

One of the challenges of every single organization is how to transfer knowledge from experts to less skilled work force. This is especially important in project organizations where the matrix organization tries to reduce its cost of operations. To deal with this issue, many organizations have designed creative tools like recorded interviews with experts, E-learning courses, Lessons Learned etc. The latter is very well known in the oil/gas industry all over the world.

The Explicit and Tacit domains of KM are however linked together. Imagine a very successful salesman who has registered all of his customers’ information into the company’s CRP system. The question is what happens if this successful salesman leaves the company. Can the company use the information he saved in the company’s CRP system and continue to do business with his customers as before? Well, part of the salesman’s success is related to his knowhow. He knows all of his customers by heart, how to approach them, how to convince them in a sales process etc. This information will certainly be missing in the company’s CRP system. So, the company is standing over the huge challenge of accessing this obviously valuable knowhow of that successful salesman before he leaves the company.

Tacit knowledge can be defined as skills, ideas and experiences that people have but are not codified and may not necessarily be easily expressed (Chugh, 2015). With tacit knowledge, people are not often aware of the knowledge they possess or how it can be valuable to others. Effective transfer of tacit knowledge generally requires extensive personal contact, regular interaction and trust. This kind of knowledge can only be revealed through practice in a particular context and transmitted through social networks (Wikipedia).

To capture knowledge in an effective way, organizations need to find a way to combine the explicit and tacit domains. This can be done in a few different ways:

  • Socialization (Tacit to Tacit): This is transferring tacit knowledge from one person to another. Example: You can teach a person how to drive a car by showing him.
  • Internalization (Explicit to Tacit): Transferring knowhow to others in written format. Example: A car manufacturer makes a manual for a car and the car owner reads it before doing maintenance on his car. The car owner has internalized the car manufacturer’s know-how and next.
  • Externalization (Tacit to Explicit): Converting knowhow to written information. Example: User manuals of a car.
  • Combination (Explicit to Explicit): Changing written information from one format to another. Example: The user manual of the car can be made in form of a manual book, CD or online.

Tacit knowledge is not always easy to transfer. There are found a number of barriers which makes this process a complex and tedious process, especially within complex industries like oil and gas. Research like the one about “Barriers to Tacit Knowledge Sharing in Geographically Dispersed Project Teams in Oil and Gas Projects” newly published by “the Department of Construction Management, Curtin University, Australia” indicates that there are main 4 categories of barriers to sharing tacit knowledge:
  • Personal barriers: This restriction results from the individual perception and actions toward the use of tacit knowledge. Examples are Lack of openness to sharing the knowledge, fear of losing ownership, fear of losing credibility, fear of losing power, tendency to personalize knowledge for competitive advantage, etc.
  • Team barriers: The team-related barriers arise from the general climate of project teams and can be described in terms of rules and principles that guide the teams’ orientation. Examples are: Lack of set-up process for sharing the knowledge, Disunity, conflicts, etc.
  • Organizational barriers: Organizational barriers come from differences and uniqueness of various organizations that are represented in a team. Examples are:
  • External: Barriers to tacit knowledge sharing may also originate from some outside forces such as economic outlook, cultural differences, and inter-organization competitiveness (Ardichvili, Maurer, Li, Wentling, & Stuedemann, 2006; Lee-Kelley & Sankey, 2008).

So, the question is how to do it. Well, I think it’s up to every organization to find out a way to transfer valuable tacit knowledge from their senior experts to their junior workers which is in accordance to that organization’s capabilities. However, we all know that a human being learns by watching, repeating/practicing and teaching. We all have been children once. Our parents have shown us how to do different things like riding a bicycle, then we have used our bicycles throughout the rest of our lives up to now and we have used our tacit knowledge about riding a bicycle to teach our own children how to ride a bicycle. So this 3-steps guide may be used by anybody or any organization to design unique ways to transfer knowledge from experts to non-skilled workforce.

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