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Integrating Knowledge Transfer & Organizational Learning: Can You Tango? (Part Four)

April 20, 2011


Updated August 26, 2015

My past three posts looked at ways to improve the sharing and transfer of knowledge within organizations. This post wraps up this series, stepping back to view the situation through the lens of integrating organizational learning and knowledge transfer. I’ll provide definitions for KM and OL, concluding with a set of nine principles aimed at helping guide people forward.





Here are two working definitions:
Organizational learning is the dynamic process that enables an organization to adapt readily to change. This process encompasses the generation of new knowledge, skills and behaviors, reinforced by cross-functional sharing and collaborative learning. The two principal outcomes are the creation of a learning culture and a shared future among all employees.

Knowledge transfer plays a vital role in supporting organizational learning because it facilitates the effective sharing of an organization’s collective knowledge. It is the integrated, systematic process to identify, manage and share an organization’s information assets, using the appropriate combination of information technologies and human interaction.

These assets include its databases, documents, policies and procedures. Moreover, it encompasses both the explicit and tacit knowledge possessed by employees, and uses a broad variety of methods to capture, store and share this within an organization.

The following nine principles serve as the foundation for an integrated knowledge management and organizational learning process:


1. Management demonstrates its leadership and commitment to learning and knowledge sharing by modeling the desired behaviors and by recognizing employees who share openly.

2. What people learn is not hoarded but shared openly and without reservation. Trust underlies the open sharing of knowledge.

3. Communities of practice and cross-functional networks support collaborative learning and knowledge generation, both virtually and in-person.

4. Creative problem-solving, innovation, and asking questions are highly valued, and recognized.

5. Reflection and inquiry are valued as critical elements of work processes, both at the individual and team levels.

6. Knowledge is created by people. Technology serves the organization as an enabler, not as a master.

7. Knowledge creation includes spontaneity and the emergence of self-organizing networks.

8. Experimentation (e.g., pilots) is critical to testing knowledge capture, codification and transfer methods, encompassing both quantitative and qualitative measurement processes.

9. Structure is important as part of the process, but care is needed to ensure that spontaneity, creativity and innovation are not suppressed.

Take a moment to share your experiences. Here are a few questions to help spark your reflection:

1) What methods have you found successful in encouraging information sharing with your co-workers?

2) How does your organization deal with the outgoing flow of corporate know-how when people leave?

3) How does management demonstrate its commitment to learning?

Learning enhances our capacity to increase knowledge through effective action.
-Peter Senge


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2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 22, 2011 12:28 am

    Jim,

    You’ve laid out an excellent blueprint for knowledge transfer and the encouragement of creativity. Unfortunately, so many organizations are dysfunctional in those regards. I’ve worked in places where information was intentionally not shared and new ideas were mocked. The result is a poisonous environment where every man is out only for himself. I hope more leaders learn and adopt the principles you’ve so concisely explained in this post.

    • April 22, 2011 1:18 am

      Thanks very much, Susan, for your encouraging words and for sharing your thoughts and experiences. This four-part series is dry stuff for many people, but it’s so important to how organizations innovate, perform and compete in a global economy. There’s a lot of work to be done, whether in business or government, to foster information sharing and especially rocking the boat when it comes to new ideas.

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