Knowledge Transfer Within Organizations

by paulgebel

This is the first of a three part series on Knowledge Management in IT (or any organization for that matter). I introduced the series describing the influence Madanmahon Rao’s work has had on this exploration, and in compiling the best KM practices in the industry, he begins with an operational look at how knowledge passes between people within organizations. It is important to put this in context, because without contextualizing the means of transfer, you will not be able to tell what channels are working effectively or not. Rao first cites GWU professor Nancy M. Dixon’s framework for the channels for knowledge transfer in order to flesh this out. She articulated the five methods of knowledge transfer thus:

Serial Transfer: The knowledge a team has gained from doing its task in one setting is transferred to the next time that team does the task in a different setting.
Near Transfer: Explicit knowledge a team has gained from doing a frequent and repeated task is reused by other teams doing similar work.
Far Transfer: Tacit knowledge a team has gained from doing a nonroutine task is made available to other teams doing similar work in another part of the organization.
Strategic Transfer: The collective knowledge of the organization is needed to accomplish a strategic task that occurs infrequently but is critical to the whole organization.
Expert Transfer: A team facing a technical question beyond the scope of its own knowledge seeks the expertise of others in the organization.

It seems so simple! Reading through the list, I imagine how each one of those channels place a role in the communication and workflow of my organization on a daily basis. Upon reading these listed out so succinctly, I’m reminded of an analogy in how the brain responds to an optical illusion. That is, when presented with the classic image of an old woman or a rabbit, our brains know that two “images” exist in front of us, but we can only visualize one at a time. Similarly, there are five main channels of knowledge transfer, and we know that they all exist simultaneously as methodologies – tacit or explicit – but our teams and employees can only really focus on one at a time. When solving our company’s biggest problems, sometimes just knowing what we’re not seeing is as important as knowing what we are.

The main source for this post comes from a framework by Madanmohan Rao (@madanrao) in the book Knowledge Management in Practice: Connections and Context.