Multinational construction and engineering companies are increasingly adopting communities of practice (COPs), as a means to encourage geographically dispersed and culturally diverse professionals to share knowledge on a global basis. If successful, these COPs form rich, knowledge sharing networks; they mobilize a company’s global knowledge base, allowing expertise to be applied when and where it is needed with relatively little managerial oversight. Conversely, geographic and cultural silos within COPs may form due to homophily, the social tendency of individuals to connect with similar others. These silos limit knowledge flows and curb the strategic advantage of a global workforce. Through empirical analysis of social network questionnaires and semistructured interviews, the research reported in this paper analyzed network patterns within three COPs to determine if geographic and cultural silos exist, identify structural patterns that defy homophilous trends, and explore why these network-level patterns exist. The research reported in this paper found that, in the absence of intentional organizational structuring and strategic control, silos induced by homophilious behavior were standard for global communities of practice. To encourage knowledge exchange across geographic and cultural boundaries, managers can create mutual task requirements, provide opportunities for connection through integrated training and learning experiences, and encourage workforce mobility among different geographic and cultural locations.
Wanberg, J., Javernick-Will, A., Taylor, J. and Chinowsky, P. (2015). “Spanning Cultural and Geographic Barriers with Knowledge Pipelines in Multi-national Communities of Practice." Journal of Construction Engineering and Management. 141 (4), 04014091. doi: 10.1061/(ASCE)CO.1943-7862.0000955