Knowledge is a fundamental resource for project-based organizations, and it resides within individual employees. By dividing employees according to their abilities, job roles, and areas of expertise (e.g. business units, functional disciplines), managers create groups within the organization without seeing the impact on underlying knowledge flows. Knowledge sharing across business units and disciplinary groups can produce immense benefit, yet anecdotal evidence suggests that these groups produce ‘silos’ that limit connection between people across the organization. Although communities of practice (CoPs) have recently emerged as a mechanism to encourage practice-based knowledge sharing across organizational silos, it is not clear if the influence of business units and disciplinary groups has a similar effect on knowledge sharing within CoPs. There are few studies that quantitatively assess the impact of organizational structures on informal knowledge-sharing networks. To clarify this anecdotal evidence, this study analyses more than 1600 knowledge-sharing connections in two CoPs using a statistical resampling technique to determine whether informal knowledge-sharing networks are constrained by business units and disciplinary groups. Results show that in the first CoP, knowledge-sharing connections were constrained by business units, with few connections existing between business units. In the second CoP, knowledge-sharing connections were constrained by disciplinary groups. In our discussion of these findings, we evaluate the applicability of the term ‘community of practice’ to manager-initiated knowledge-sharing groups, and discuss how formal structures created by management produce differential opportunities to connect that influence network structure within CoPs.
Wanberg, J., Javernick-Will, A., Taylor, J. and Chinowsky, P. (2015). “A Useful Knot or a Deadly Noose?: The Effects of Organizational Divisions on Informal Knowledge Sharing Networks.” Engineering Project Organizations Journal. 5 (2-3), 118-132. doi: 10.1080/21573727.2015.1059823