Article: Thursday, 29 October 2015
Over time, employees gather a body of collective knowledge that becomes increasingly important to companies. But who knows which colleagues have what specific knowledge? And who can connect ‘colleagues who know’ with colleagues who need to know? In her upcoming PhD thesis Julija Mell from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) describes how these valuable meta-knowledge specialists help to process information thoroughly and to build bridges between teams.
Whether they are working on scientific breakthroughs, tackling complex policies or creating innovative products or services, many organisations use large numbers of people to solve complex problems. Using the specialised knowledge of the whole workforce can increase the chances of new insights and more successes. That requires a bird’s-eye view of collective or meta-knowledge, but this ability is often not evenly distributed across the organisation.
Some people are likely to possess more meta-knowledge than others – for example, because of prior experience, personal inclination, or because their role in the organisation enables them to easily gather information about their colleagues’ specialisations and activities. As Julija Mell demonstrates, it is not just such ‘meta-knowledge specialists’ themselves who benefit from knowing who-knows-what. The entire team does because these individuals connect information-seekers to information-holders. This way, meta-knowledge specialists promote discussion and can act as catalysts in group decision-making.
People who establish connections between groups become essential if the knowledge needed to solve a problem is not concentrated within a single team but within several departments. They communicate to their own teams ‘what the other side knows’ and help to integrate knowledge across organisational groups, thus stimulating collaboration. In her research, Mell found that more effective bridges between groups are built when both sides liaise using meta-knowledge specialists.
Almost anyone in the organisation can become an effective meta-knowledge specialist. But Mell’s research suggests that when employees need to find out who in the company has knowledge that they need, it is high-ranking managers they naturally turn to for advice. So, managers may want to pay particular attention to keeping their meta-knowledge up to date in order to be effective knowledge coordinators.
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