Blogging was where we began, and how we built our company so we have preserved this archive to show how our thinking developed over a decade of developing the use of social technology inside organisations

Organisational Culture and knowledge sharing


Yesterday, Suw considered different information search strategies within organisations and how these might impact on the design of knowledge sharing systems. Another aspect that we need to consider in such an analysis is culture
Martin Duggage is thinking about Knowledge Sharing Literacy and suggests that we need to have a better understanding of the cultural factors required for effective knowledge sharing at three different levels within organisations

1- at the sponsoring level, top managers must understand how they must walk the talk themselves

2- at the program governance level, managers must understand the social dynamics of knowledge sharing communities, especially CoPs, be genuinely interested in learning more about social networking technology, and stop focusing exclusively on challenging new ideas with business cases and ROIs

3- at the giver/taker level, people must adopt new forms of communication and behavior, and sometimes even learn again some basic writing techniques such as the three level writing of journalists (catchy title, summary, and extended text).

Martin is also kind enough to recognise that the “nightmare” of individual behavioural change is something that we at Headshift are trying to tackle in the way that we conceive and implement knowledge sharing networks
Elsewhere, Thomas Burg today links to an article by Maish Nichani called Understanding Organisational Culture for Knowledge Sharing (via Column Two) that looks at some of the implications of different cultural traits
Nichani’s piece looks at two dimensions – sociability and solidarity – and postulates four culture types that emerge from combinations of these two dimensions

  • Networked
  • Communal
  • Fragmented
  • Mercenary

He then applies this simple matrix model to three facets of culture in organisations

  1. Trust and knowledge sharing
  2. Organisation work and knowledge sharing
  3. Learning and Knowledge Strategy

What struck me as funny was that for all his nuanced thinking about organisational culture and how this influences extranet / knowledge sharing projects, Thomas works in an environment where the use of SAP with Microsoft “tools” has been imposed from above, which not only limits his room for manoeuvre, but also presumably acts as a kind of organisational culture override

“Horrible, the University of Vienna and its employees are doomed to use SAP and Microsoft. The usage of SAP – if I remember correctly – was imposed on all Austrian universities before they were sent into autonomy. Some say it was a conscious act of complication. It was for sure a good deal for SAP and its consulting firms.”

Old-style enterprise software has in-built cultural assumptions that often impact negatively on the behaviour of people within organisational networks, and this fact is too often ignored by purchasers. We hear horror stories all the time from clients and partners about enterprise software projects or top-down “knowledge management” projects that are clearly not fit for purpose, but which roll on like runaway trains because nobody dare stop them until it is too late
Cast your eye down the list of winners for the Intelligent Enterprise Readers Choice Awards and ask yourself how many of these applications seek to connect people within the enterprise or support some form of social interaction? Are these products *really* about intelligence or just lots of warehoused information? Do they even make reference to organisational culture? If this poll is a reflection of the way that enterprises see “intelligence” right now then we have a long way to go – what a fascinating challenge!

4 Responses to Organisational Culture and knowledge sharing

  1. By Thomas on September 4, 2004 at 10:50 pm

    Hi Lee,
    we fortunately do not work with SAP but our IT works heavily with MS. I once talked to them about using weblogs+ to complement the email/files system intranet we face in our org. I actually offered them an opportunity for 40 Euros of investment and my employees committment for free.
    They just meant “looks interesting – we could use it for projects, but the average user loves email and file systems”. Then I talked to our internal communications officer. She – nodding all the time – told me to contact the IT. That’s when I stopped talking to the administration and started “grassroot”-initiatives. We use weblogs since then that are hosted outside of the University (thanks to and It’s, however, a challenge to tell the users that there is something that can help them to overcome the hardship and pain of redundant information routines.

  2. By Lee Bryant on September 6, 2004 at 11:03 am

    Thanks Thomas,
    I was aware of your work with blogs and K-Collector, but I still find it unbelievable that this kind of activity needs to happen below the IT radar.
    This is the case in many organisations, in my experience, where people are trying to use cheap, simple and effective communication tools in amn evironment dominated by ineffective top-down software behemoths.
    One point you make in your comment, which I think is reallly interesting, is that the “grassroots” approaches are often hosted outside the corporate firewall. Isn’t it amazing that you have to use another company’s infrastructure to do something useful? That raises the question of what IT is for – is it an underpinning service or is it simple a control mechanism.
    Call me an optimist, but I am convinced this situation will change soon. The availability of distributed web services and applications makes a nonsense of this kind of old-guard IT culture.

  3. By Thomas on September 6, 2004 at 11:22 am

    I’ll keep the fingers crossed that innovation is moving from the fringes to the center 🙂

  4. By Headshift on May 10, 2006 at 2:34 pm

    The writing process as a barrier to knowledge sharing

    It’s all well and good having the tools to share knowledge, but people with little confidence in their own writing ability are unlikely to use them.