Full citation

Erhardt, N. (2011). Is it All About Teamwork? Understanding Processes in Team-Based Knowledge Work.Management Learning, 42(1), 87-112.

Format: Peer-reviewed article

Type: Research — Non-experimental

Experience level of reader: Fundamental

Annotation: The goal of this study is to explore how knowledge creation and sharing processes are leveraged in teams that are involved in knowledge work. The authors use qualitative finding from four case studies (one Swedish manufacturing project, two Swedish insurance projects, and one American medical device project) to document how knowledge sharing, knowledge creation and learning occur in teams. A theoretical framework for Team-Based Knowledge Work (TBKW) is derived. It correlates the team’s knowledge composition (homogeneous — limited dispersion of knowledge; heterogeneous — wide dispersion of knowledge) and the nature of the problem (ill-structured, well-structured) using a 2 x 2 matrix that distinguished four type of TBKW: collaborative, integrative, modular, and standardized.

Setting(s) to which the reported activities/findings are relevant: Large business, Small business (less than 500 employees)

Knowledge user(s) to whom the piece of literature may be relevant: Manufacturers

Knowledge user level addressed by the literature: Organization

This article uses the Commercial Devices and Services version of the NtK Model

Primary Findings

Barriers:

  • Complex knowledge processing (i.e. explorative knowledge creation and double-loop learning) may be degraded by team conflict, miscommunication or status-related barriers. One way to minimize theses interferences is to convene workshops where all team members are present and encouraged to share ideas, bridge differing perspectives, clear-up misconceptions and resolve conflicts. Strong team interdependence can neutralize status effects.
    Case study and interviews.
    Occurrence of finding within the model: Step 3.1
  • Activities that may complicate team-based knowledge work include: framing the nature of the problem, scoping boundary conditions, identifying current and needed resources, establishing adequate task time frames, and clarifying roles and expected deliverables.
    Case study and interviews.
    Occurrence of finding within the model: Step 3.1, Step 1.2, Step 1.1

Model: A Team-Based Knowledge Work (TBKW) theoretical framework can be used to identify the most appropriate type of team-based knowledge work based on team’s knowledge composition (homogeneous, heterogeneous) and the nature of the problem being solved (ill-structured, well-structured). A 2 x 2 matrix distinguishes the four types of TBKW: collaborative (ill-structured problem and heterogeneous knowledge composition), integrative (ill-structured problem and homogenous knowledge composition), modular (well-structured problem and heterogeneous knowledge composition), and standardized (well-structured problem and homogenous knowledge composition).
Case study and interviews.
Occurrence of finding within the model: Step 3.1, Step 1.4, Step 1.1

Methods:

  • Standardized team-based knowledge work — Work is handled by individual experts in formal work structures where knowledge sharing is limited and exploitative knowledge creation and single-loop learning episodes occur at the individual level. This method works best when the team is dealing with a well-structured problem and homogenous knowledge composition.
    Case study and interviews.
    Occurrence of finding within the model: Step 3.1
  • Collaborative team-based knowledge work — Work involves extensive interaction in a non-hierarchical fashion where knowledge sharing, explorative and exploitative knowledge creation, and single- and double-loop processing are frequent at both individual and team levels. This method works best when the team is dealing with an ill-structured problem and heterogeneous knowledge composition.
    Case study and interviews.
    Occurrence of finding within the model: Step 3.1
  • Modular team-based knowledge work — Work is conducted through predefined discrete steps handled by specified experts, working in a modular fashion with limited knowledge sharing, and exploitative knowledge creation and single-loop learning at the team level. This method works best when the team is dealing with a well-structured problem and heterogeneous knowledge composition.
    Case study and interviews processes.
    Occurrence of finding within the model: Step 3.1
  • Integrative team-based knowledge work — Work is conducted through an iterative process of individual and team-work structures involving frequent knowledge sharing, exploitative and explorative knowledge creation and single-loop learning episodes. This method works best when the team is dealing with an ill-structured problem and homogenous knowledge composition.
    Case study and interviews.
    Occurrence of finding within the model: Step 3.1

Tips:

  • When forming teams, investigators should give consideration to the knowledge base/requirements of individual team members. Heterogeneous team knowledge typically implies a greater need for knowledge sharing between team members. Project practices (e.g., workshopping) and resources should be allocated to account for the increased demand for sharing. Conversely, homogenous team knowledge suggests a reduced requirement for knowledge sharing. Project practices and resources should focus on optimizing individual team member productivity.
    Case study and interviews.
    Occurrence of finding within the model: Step 3.1, Step 1.2, Step 1.1
  • Complex knowledge processing (i.e. explorative knowledge creation and double-loop learning) typically requires increased reliance on other team members’ knowledge. It often entails the consideration of a broader range of perspectives, ideas and solutions, which requires close interdependent teamwork.
    Case study and interviews.
    Occurrence of finding within the model: Step 3.1