Knowledge-sharing practices are highly contextual. I have seen this with clients in multiple locations, across national borders. This makes sense when you consider that knowledge sharing is deeply personal as well as social, so it reflects the larger culture and the particular workplace. A 2011 study (via David Gurteen) concluded that even in the same company, knowledge management practices are different (note that the authors define Ba as shared context in motion).
Each subsidiary, although part of the same corporate group and including the same functional teams, displayed very different patterns of KM and organizational features. The regression model showed that different organizational factors – especially Ba, work styles, and organizational control – were responsible for the resulting KM profiles of each local office: formal Ba in the U.S. office, clear objectives in the French subsidiary, formal Ba in the Chinese branch, and a self-directed vision in the Japanese head office.
Source: A study of knowledge management enablers across countries, by Rémy Magnier-Watanabe, Caroline Benton & Dai Senoo, in Knowledge Management Research & Practice (2011) 9, 17–28 (PDF).
This need for contextual knowledge management practices aligns with the advice of Snowden & Kurtz who recommend “loose hierarchies & strong networks” in complex environments, as shown in this image by Verna Allee.
So, for large organizations, not only will no single technology platform meet all your knowledge-sharing, collaboration and cooperation needs, but no single approach will either. While there is a need to create a balance between individual and enterprise
knowledge-sharing tools, there is also a need to balance the needs of the central organization with those of external locations. In our distributed economic world, this is workplace reality.
With loose hierarchies and strong networks as a guiding principle, departments need to have the ability to try out different KM practices and see how they work in their unique contexts. Of course, this flies in the face of standardization of processes and the search for best practices that have been drilled into management heads for the past century. For knowledge management today, industrial management just won’t cut it.