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Gaining external knowledge ‐ boundaries in managers' knowledge relations

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PurposeThe purpose of this paper is to investigate interorganizational knowledge exchange from the perspective of the individual manager/professional. The paper aims to study the kinds of relationships managers/professionals in SMEs are involved in and the way in which they construct boundaries within and around these interorganizational relationships enabling and hindering knowledge acquisition. Design/methodology/approachThe paper is based on 31 interviews with managers and professionals in seven SMEs. Interviews focused on the interorganizational relationships they viewed as important sources of knowledge for themselves and their organizations. FindingsThe study shows that managers/professionals gain vital knowledge from far more interorganizational relationships than those formally designed for knowledge acquisition. The most important sources of knowledge were relationships with suppliers and customers. The study also identifies five boundary dimensions ‐ interests, interpretive frameworks, trust, private/organizational and priority ‐ which respondents use in constructing boundaries within and around the relationships. These boundary dimensions represent important conditions for knowledge acquisition through the relationship. Research limitations/implicationsThe five boundary dimensions are generated based on a sample of SMEs in Sweden. They must thus be regarded as provisional and need to be validated in further research including larger organizations in different cultural contexts. Future studies should also focus on the dynamics of the boundaries and their interrelations as relationships evolve. Originality/valueThis paper adds to research on interorganizational knowledge acquisition by taking an individual level perspective and identifying boundary dimensions through which the relationships and their knowledge flows are shaped.

Keywords: Knowledge transfer; Social networks; Sweden; Workplace learning

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: October 23, 2009


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