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.

Benefits for the whole team

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.

...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.

Managers need meta-knowledge too

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.

Dr. J.N. (Julija) Mell
Associate Professor
Rotterdam School of Management (RSM)
Erasmus University Rotterdam
Julija Mell
Pile of books with vibrant bookmarks protruding from various pages, symbolizing in-depth research.

Related articles

RSM Discovery

Want to elevate your business to the next level using the latest research? RSM Discovery is your online research platform. Read the latest insights from the best researchers in the field of business. You can also subscribe to the newsletter to receive a bimonthly highlight with the most popular articles.

Do you want to learn more about this subject?

Check out these RSM education programmes

Your contact for more information:

Danielle Baan

Science Communication and Media Officer

Portrait of Erika Harriford-McLaren

Erika Harriford-McLaren

Corporate Communications & PR Manager

Erasmus University campus in autumn, showcasing its iconic red trees, viewed from across the campus pool.