Knowledge Transfer – Meaning, Barriers and its Characteristics


Organizations indulge nowadays in alliances, collaborations and partnerships. All this require transfer of knowledge, especially, knowledge related to strategies, technologies and best practices to improve the network cooperation. Research studies attempt to obtain inferences from these transfer processes so as to understand more about the characteristics of knowledge transfer.

Barriers to Knowledge Transfer

To understand more about knowledge transfer, it is essential to know about the barriers to transferring best practices in an organization. There is a need to develop a model for the process in which knowledge is transferred, and the obstacles in the different stages of the process can be studied. The critical hurdles to knowledge transfer are as below:

  • Receiver of the knowledge has shortage of absorptive capacity
  • Characteristics of the knowledge being handed over
  • Rapport between informers and receivers

Characteristics of Knowledge Transfer

The speed with which the transfer of knowledge takes place is also important since it has to reach the recipient at the correct time and within an acceptable cost. Knowledge received late and at an extra cost will not bring any benefit to the organization. It seems that the speed of the knowledge transfer will depend on the tacit nature of the knowledge. The tacit nature of the knowledge is fundamentally dependents upon two factors:

  1. First of all, the knowledge has to be modifiable.
  2. Secondly, it should be teachable.

If these are possible, the transfer of knowledge will take place speedily.

It is also seen that the communication and the frequency of discussions between knowledge source and recipient are important factors of knowledge transfer. In addition, the type of knowledge transferred is also significant. The knowledge can be related to business, project or technology. The recipient has to be capable enough in the respective field to have the knowledge successfully imported.

Knowledge Stickiness

Consider an instance of building a new system. Knowledge transfer can be visualised as consisting of a source which can be a system user and a receiver who is the system builder. The difficulty faced in the process of knowledge transfer is called knowledge stickiness. A methodical and concentrated inspection of the aspects which result in stickiness while systems are built, will be useful to handle the issues that come up as a result of shortage of needed knowledge transfer among the user and the builder. The level of stickiness during the knowledge transfer process depends on the following factors:

  • The character of knowledge
  • The features of sources and receivers
  • The character of the association grown between sources and receivers

While knowledge transfer is taking place, the above three aspects, scheme together for triggering stickiness, is important to handle stickiness carefully to enhance the process of knowledge transfer.

Disadvantages of a Knowledge Management (KM) System

Many advantages accrue to organizations that have efficient knowledge management systems. These include reducing the iterations in subsequent projects, leveraging existing knowledge to improve on the processes, achieving synergies between processes and functions, and generally improving productivity because of the convergence of all these aspects. The key aspect about having an efficient knowledge management system is that one need not reinvent the wheel. In other words, organizations can derive benefits from the knowledge that is present in the system and hence, reduce the work needed to do the same or similar tasks again. For instance, if a particular organization has stored knowledge about previous projects in the KM system, then subsequent projects having the same or similar kind of tasks or deliverables can benefit from the existing knowledge by reusing the artifacts, documents, and knowledge units that are there in the KM system. This reduces iterations for projects as the similar deliverables can be submitted without having to redo the same thing repeatedly. This is one of the most important reasons why corporate go in for KM systems as having an efficient KM system result in quantum jumps in productivity.

KM Systems reduce Rework and Result in Synergies

The next aspect is to do with achieving synergies between the processes and functions. For instance, if a particular project needs inter-function executes, the KM system can be mined for knowledge about previous projects that have artifacts related to processes that are interdisciplinary. In other words, managers can simply take the knowledge units from the existing data store and reuse them. When other functions are involved in the project, an integrated KM system that has details of cross-functional expertise can come in handy. This means that functional and Procession knowledge can be combined leading to synergies between them. Many organizations also store knowledge related to optimizing the existing processes and improving the existing processes. These are requirements under the capability maturity models like SEI-CMM where the certification depends on how well the organizations engage and indulge in continuous improvement. This is the reason why many organizations in their quest to be certified under the capability maturity models often have put in place KM systems that are comprehensive and integrated.

Productivity Leaps because of KM Systems

The third aspect about having a KM system is that the reduction in the number of iterations, the optimization of existing processes, reuse of artifacts, and cross functional expertise available for the other projects all result in productivity leaps. Productivity is the ratio of the time taken to do a particular task to the magnitude and scope of the task. Therefore, when the first iteration happens, one is doing the task for the first time and hence, one would take more time. However, when the task is repeated, one has gained expertise in performing the task, and hence, one takes lesser time to do it the second time or the subsequent times. This is the productivity improvement that happens with expertise and knowledge.

How a Well-Oiled KM System is beneficial to the Organizations

Similarly, when organizations leverage on the existing knowledge and expertise available in the KM system when other projects have similar tasks to do, the resulting productivity leap is because of the reuse of the existing knowledge that reduces the time and the effort it takes to do the same task the next time around. This is the key aspect that anyone who is interested in how a KM system improves efficiency must know about the advantages of a well-oiled KM system. This is also the reason why many organizations reward employees who contribute Knowledge Units (KU’s) to the KM system as by doing so they are contributing to the efficiency of the overall organization. Finally, KM systems also help in creating an open working environment where the culture is geared towards sharing knowledge instead of hoarding knowledge.

Source: HBR


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