Related Research of Knowledge Transfer in Organizations

Although interest in how one organization transfers knowledge to another is rela- tively new, considerable work has been done in the past on related topics. For example, work has been done on “transfer of training.” This work examines how to design training programs to increase the likelihood that participants transfer skills acquired in the training program to on-the-job performance (e.g., see Baldwin & Ford, 1988, for a review). Work has also been done in psychology on how individuals transfer knowledge learned on one task to another (e.g., see Singley & Anderson, 1989, for a review). This research might examine, for exam- ple, how experience with one programming task affects performance on another. In a somewhat different vein, work has been done on the transfer or diffusion of innovation (e.g., see Rogers, 1995). This work might examine, for example, how a new farming practice diffused across farmers. These different lines of work focus primarily on individual (rather than organizational) outcomes and hence are beyond the scope of this monograph. Findings from these lines of work will be drawn upon when they have implications for the transfer of knowledge across organizations.

Research has been done at the organizational level on the diffusion of practices across organizations (e.g., DiMaggio & Powell, 1983; Tolbert & Zucker, 1983). For example, Tolbert and Zucker (1983) examined the diffusion of civil service reforms across cities in the USA. Much of this work has emphasized that organiza-tions often adopt practices to achieve legitimacy rather than to improve their efficiency (see Scott, 1987, for a review of this perspective). Research has also been done on factors affecting the adoption or transfer of practices or technology within organizations (e.g., see Allen, 1977; Attewell, 1992; Cool, Dierickx, & Szulanski, 1997; Keller & Chinta, 1990; Leonard-Barton, 1988; Ounjian & Carne, 1987). For example, Cool et al. (1997) examined factors explaining the diffusion of electronic switching technology within the operating companies of the Bell System.

Our focus is somewhat different than past work on the adoption of organizational practices or technology. We examine whether an organization learns from the expe- rience of other organizations. Because their experience can be embedded in prac- tices or technology, research on the adoption of practices is relevant for understanding how one organization learns from the experience of another. Past work on the adop- tion of practices is drawn upon when it illuminates the processes of knowledge transfer.

Just as researchers of individual knowledge transfer examine how experience on one task affects performance on another, we examine how experience at one organi- zation affects performance at another. Factors such as similarity that are important predictors of the extent of knowledge transfer at the individual level are important at the organizational level as well. Additional factors, however, come into play in understanding knowledge transfer at the organizational level of analysis. These fac- tors are now discussed.

Source: Argote Linda (2013), Organizational Learning: Creating, Retaining and Transferring Knowledge, Springer; 2nd ed. 2013 edition.

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