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Torlina integrationofknowledge-2004

  1. 1. Deakin Research OnlineDeakin University’s institutional research repositoryDDeakin Research OnlineResearch OnlineThis is the published version (version of record) of:Torlina, Luba and Lichtenstein, Sharman 2004, Integration of knowledge management invirtual groups, in Innovations Through Information Technology, 2004 Information ResourcesManagement Association International Conference, IGI Publishing, Hershey, Pa., pp. 101-104.Available from Deakin Research Online: with the kind permission of the copyright ownerCopyright : 2004, IGI Publishing
  2. 2. Innovations Through Information Technology 101 Integration of Knowledge .. Management In Virtual Groups Luba Torlina and Sharman Lichtenstein School of Information Business Systems, Faculty of Buincss and Law, Deakin University, Melbourne Campus 221 Burwood Highway, Burwood, Victoria 3125 Australia, This paper focuses 011 exploring knowledge work in two types of virtual were benefits to be harvested liom identifying and comparing knowledge groups, allempting to ident!{y common themes and key diiferentiators. work issues in these two types of structures - for guiding the design of We were particularly interested in investigating how various forums complementary, integrated virtual spaces and processes where knowl- support, 01 do 110t sllpporl, collective virtual knowledge work. 0111 study edge work could flourish, and defining corresponding requirements for demonstrates that, despite apparent differences in purpose and objectives supporting systems and technologies. Following, we provide an intro- (drive,I), synergies exist between virtual COlll/II1l11i1ies and teams. Virtual duction to knowledge work in virtual communities and teams, discussgroups sllch as virtual C0JJ1111 unities, communities of pracrice and virtual findings from two case studies, draw conclusions and offer final remarks.teams jJeljorm emergent Imowledge work based on relationships,interaction and self-regulation. These groups carry out a variety of KNOWLEDGE WORK IN VIRTUAL COMMUNITIESvaluable knowledge work, which is often 1Il0tivated by individual or AND TEAMSgroup-based - rather than managerial -. needs. We develop a model of We commence by offering definitions of virtual community andthe role !!{ virtual groups in knowledge management (Kit4) in business virtual teum, terms which are often confused by theorists and practi-and social organi::afions, and suggest that Oil/ model forms a basis for tioners. We define a virtual community as groups of people who engagefurther exploration of this increasingly important topic. in many-to-many interactions online, and form wherever people with common interests are able to interact (Cothrel & Williams, 1999),INTRODUCTION generally representing weak tie networks such as social networks and Knowledge management (KM) is increasingly linked to work networks of practice. Virtual teams embrace a wide range of project- performed by often-distributed groups consisting of communities and based, task-based or topic-based occupational kams and groups working teams collaborating to solve complex problems across specialisations in a virtual space. Classically, they are defined as strong tie networks, (Schaffers et aI., 2003). Group work can be allocated by managemcnt, however we extend the definition to medium-to-strong tie networks with autonomy awarded to groups for all kinds of activities, including for example, a collective of groups of people at work who temporarily critical decision-making. Increasingly, however, group work is self- assemble to fulfil a business purpose. Virtual teams may be part of a motivated, with workers congregating around emergency, ad hoc needs virtual community, or may exist as a separate entity independent of (Alavi & Tiwana, 2(02). other on-line structures. Computer-mediated communication (CivIC) has become a popular channel for communication, cooperation and collaboration by virtual ViI,tllal Communities aud Knowledge Management comm1lnities al1d teams. Nowadays, these virtual groups play significant Early virtual communities were formed around social issues, how- roles in all kinds of societal and organizational activities - for example, ever more reeently, community-building has emerged as an important outsourcing (Hiltz & furoff, 1993; SchaffelS et al., Z003). Interest- business opportunity. Hagel & Armstrong (1997) argue that in the ingly, virtual groups have also led to the emergence of specific subcul- commercial world, virtual communities have the potential to overturn tures, with new management and self-management practices and tools many traditional business structures, while Bressler & Grantham (2000) extending and sometimes replacing existing physical mechanisms and suggest that in the new business climate, successful businesses muststructures (Toriina and Kazakevitch, 2003). transform themselves into a community of employees who cluster in Businesses and society gain from virtual group knowledge work in pursuit of a common objective. In contrast, Rhcingold (1999) believesdifferent, but related ways. Businesses benefit through the establishment it unlikely the cOlllmunity model will ever deliver direct revenue,of internal knowlt,dge flo links and the sbaring and creation of suggesting that the greatest value of a community arises from the qualityknowledge leading to organizational learning and innovation (Hlupic & of generated content, knowledge, experience sharing, improved com-Qureshi, Z003; Schrage. 1990: Sharkie, 20(3). Society benefits through munications, and new forms of culture.the establIshment of knowledge networks based on shared interests and Virtual comlllunities involve knowledge sharing, illustrated by theobjectives; validation of knowledge created elsewhere; and the provision application of what has been learned through the community (Lueg,of a fertile environment for knowledge stimulation and innovation. 200 I). These communities support the capture, sharing and manage-Perhaps more importantly, such communities simultaneously reflect ment of knowledge that is otherwise ditlicult to access and structure.and convey changes in the body of knowledge and learning structures in Hypertext tools are employed to construct forums, with linked discus-the wider society, transferring knowledge of a broader societal context sions on specific topics of interest, thereby enabling knowledge genera-- such as national culture, arts, social lifc, humanitarIan issues and tion, and linking of knowledge objects througb hyperlinks (Beinhaucr,politics (Reinghold, 1999: Castells, 2000) 2000; Radding, 1998). Personal profiles of members specialisations Researchers have recently begun to investigate KM in virtual group spawn subgroups that share more personalised knowledge (Beinhauer,work (for example- Alavi & Tiwana, 2002; Bieber et al., 2002; 2000)Lichtenstein & Swatman, 2003). Schaffers el al. (2003) called forgreater research into the role of KM in supporting and integrating new Virtual Teams lind Knowledge Managementtypes of complex co-operative work, within and across increasingly Virtual teams which work across time zones and geographicalnetworked organizational boundanes. Accordingly, we elected to inves- boundaries are increasingly prevalent in businesses (Townsend et aI.,tigate knowledge work in virtual communities and teams, feeling there 1993), with expertS suggesting they are the best choice structure forCopyright 1£) 2004, Idea Group Inc. Ctlpying or distributing in print or electrolllc forms without written penmssion of Idea Group Inc. is prohibited.
  3. 3. 102 2004 IRMA International Conference harnessing, integrating and applying distributed knowledge in organiza- The sources o[ value for community members include the high leveltions and other collaborative groups largely because the individuals of mcmber interactions and contributions to community content.involved provide a context in which their tacit, specialist knowledge can Although generated content is not filtered, site management encouragesbe recombined into collective knowledge (Alavi & Tiwana, 2002) high quality content by enabling author and publication ratings, thusIndeed, without such group work, there is no opportunity [or individuals creating a knowledge evaluation process as well as relationships andto idcntif", synergies in their specialist knowledge. Ratcheva (forthcom- knowledge links between finds such synergies in virtual teamwork, while Qureshi et al. (2000) Community members establish formal and informal groups andexplain the contribution to learning of socia-cognitive conflict resolu- associations within the community. The basis for such groups or teamstion in virtual teams, when the competing viewpoints are offered from may be sharing a specific interest in a particular genre or style, ordiverse knowledge backgrounds. pursuing a group interest such as establishing a new club, or publishing Virtual team knowledge work is able to capitalise on the ease with a book together, or simply appreciating one anothers work. Higherwhich team composition can be altered in virtual space, combined with quality knowledge is thus generatcd (Beinhauer, 2000). Exercisingparticipant acceptance of such fluid team structures. As needed, people freedom of site use, a diversity of authors have joined the community,can be rotated in (and out) of teams (Alavi & Tiwana, 2002; Townsend creating stratification and relative isolation "by choice" of the differentet al., 1998) and, according to Schaffers (2003), such evolving needs groups. Border-crossing of groups is possible, however people usuallytend to be for peoples knowledge. choose to read, review, and socialise with the members of their own informal group. Bonds and trust thus develops, leading to greaterFINDINGS I?ROM CASE STIJDmS OF LITEIUU; AND knowledge sharing. Such informal grouping also offers a natural mecha-EMAIL nism for managing complex implicit knowledge. In this section, we report findings from two case studies of a virtualcommunity and a virtual team environment. We were interested in Knowledge Work by Virtual Teams in Organizational Emailinvestigating knowledge work in business organizations as well as in As reported elsewhere (Lichtenstein & Swatman, 2003), we foundsocial non-professional virtual organizations with intensive knowledge that virtual teams were summoned through an initial message inspiredgeneration. Discourse analysis (Fairclough, 1992) was employed to by a need perceived to be of mutual interest to team members. Thisanalyse text and documcnts in context, enabling the identification of message became part of a knowledge trail consisting of successive,patterns, themes and trends. Feature analysis (Kitchenham & Jones, related emails in one or more threads emanating from the first knowledge 1997) was used to identify the key features of CMC technologies for seed email In the conversations, selected because knowledge develop- virtual communities and teams, from specifications found in existing ment took place, knowledge was crystallised along the knowledge trailliterature. through processes of knowledge qualification and combination, with The virtual community investigated was liteLru a Russian reference to knowledge resources including authorities, documents, andliterary publishing site implemented as a portal. A preliminary contributions of insights, ideas, suggestions and context by participants.investigation of knowledge work in twenty knowledge intensive com- New participants were co-opted as needed for their decision-munities, based in Australia, US and Russia was undertaken through making power, interest or additional knowledge. Infrequently, teamdiscourse and feature analysis. was selected for an in-depth case members were dropped off the circulation list. By the end of knowledgestudy as an example of a successful KM syskm with an integrated trails, the tacit knowledge of participants had clearly been shared andcomputer-mediated environment, and a management model that en- combined, and new organizational knowledge had been created in thecourages community building, quality content generation and innova- form of plans, innovation, decisions and actions. As a result of thetion. The virtual teams studied operated in the context of a large concomitant organizational learning, new social and intellectual capitalAustralian university, and collaborated using email. For this study. five had also been created.hundred consecutive messages and three hundred conversations featur- Team members were motivated to undertake knowledge work outing knowledge development wcre collected from the Eudora email of a knowledge need. To an extent, this motivation was enabled by thearchive of an academic (one of the authors) at a large Australian medium of email - which has been likened to an employee habitat,university. The fact that the two authors are members of the same commanding high levels of attention and organizational work through-academic department enabled participant involvement in the research, out a typical workday (Ducheneaut & Bellotti, 2(01) Email allowsthereby providing context and understanding. spontaneous discourse, while its messages have been found to possess high levels of attention-attracting and excellent sensemaking charac-Knowledge Wol"i, in a Virtual Community: Liter,Ru teristics, including personalisation and contextualisation (Lichtenstein In introducing the relevance of our choice of study of in a & Swatman, 2003).KM context, we note that the primary aim of this communitv is to Relationships developed among employees were collegial, withestablish a creative environment, rathe;- than simply aiming for" online bonds strengthened by the sense of shared purpose in working to resolvepublishing. The virtual space comprises an interactive meeting place for evolving collective work needs and issues. Group knowledge work wasauthors and readers, and also fulfils the role of a knowledge sharing not monitored by management. Instead, teams co-opted decision-facility. The collected publications constitute a constantly updated makers, other experts and peers as needed, to receive approval and otherknowledge repository, forming the basis for a high quality, contempo- qualification (evaluation) of new knowledge being developed, in the lightrary digital library. Knowledge generation is carried out by the commu- of current organizational objectives, plans and regulation.nity members through their interest-specific activities - pUblication,reviewing, discussions and other value-added activities. Patterns of Role of Virtual Groups ill Organizational Knowledgcknowledge work described in (Lichtenstein & Swatman" 2003) - and in Managemcntthe virtual team analysis below - are clearly identified in liter IU From our empirical findings, we provide a model of the integration Management of the community is based on thc self-management of virtual groups in organizational KM systems, for organizations wheremodel which includes adaptive development of self-regulatory measures virtual groups play a key role (Figure I).and policy, complemented by effective, integrated web-based tools. The Knowledge work is integrated in an organization-wide KM website allows for immediate publication and sharing of Groups arc self~motivated, based on the building of relationships whichinformation and knowledge. Online reviewing of new literary work can vary from collegial Ifor example, in the workplace) to warm andimmediately follows publication, with feedback and responses given in personal (for example, in a societal virtual community). CTroups are self-real time. Learning is thus accomplished, cnabling community develop- regulated and self-organizing, making decisions often without recoursement through the negotiated knowledge of accepted and unaccepted to management, then proViding feedback to management who respondcollective norms, as well as enabling authors to shape their future work with altered organizatlOnal plans or information about goals, policy oron the basis of knowledge gained. knowledge evaluation. If management is needed for decision-making purposes, representatives may b0 co-opted into virtual group work.Copyright © 2004, Idea Group Inc. Copying or distributing in print or electronic forms without written permission of Idea Group Inc. is prohibited.
  4. 4. Innovations Through Information Technology 103Figure 1: Integration oj Knowledge A fifth theme relates to knowledge ownership and control. How is knowledge-under-construction controlled? Who is in charge and making Other organisations and society • decisions? Bieber et al (2002) notes the negative effect on collective , ------------------------------- - -------------- -----------------------------------"> , knowledge value when individuals control knowledge development , , , , solely In our study, we observed more democratIc decision-making by , , , , , , empowered employees. However, at times, those in authority stepped : : ~~ Feedback : : in and took control of knowledge-under-construction and associated ;Goals ·Motivation i decisions throngh knowledge qualification, illustrating political and : ·Evaluation ·Relationship-bullding: power motives in the construction of knowledge (Lichtenstein, 2004). : Reguiation ·Self-regulation : As our sixth observation, we suggest that established organizatiunal Issues such as everyday practices, interaction, discourse and relationship building are often treated as separate from knowledge capturing, creation aIllI transferring. This creates a fragmented view of knowledge in organization, and breaks the cycle of re-creating and renegotiating collective knowledge, which in fact should be treated as an ongoing process. Overall, we observed the evolutionary and empowered nature of knowledge work performed by self-directed groups, and the contribution resources of this kind of work to organizational learning and increased social and New kncrNledge ·People intellectual capital. We believe that our research is the foundation of ·Innovations ·Repositories i :~;~II~:O~Sdand ~ctions -discourse I future research in which design features of virtual group structures and their knowledge processes and repositories can be established, based l_____________ :~n!:I~~:I~~_:~~~a~ ________ _________________________ _ 9!If:!lJ[s_aJ8Jfl.Bj _b_OJ~l!dJ1!Y_: upon the kinds of characteristics that we observed occurring naturally in Ollr study. Through group discourse, knowledge is captur0d, shared, createdand applied, with recourse as needed to knowledge resources in the form REI<ERENCESof other people, repositories and additional discourse. Outcomes are Alavi, M. & Tiwana, A. 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