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Knowledge sharing in organisational contexts: a motivation-based perspective

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PurposeFacilitating knowledge sharing within organisations is a difficult task: the willingness of individuals to share and integrate their knowledge is one of the central barriers. This paper aims to develop a motivation-based perspective to explore how organisations resolve the social dilemma of knowledge sharing. Design/methodology/approachThe analysis builds on a three-category taxonomy of motivation, adding "hedonic" motivation to the traditional dichotomy of "extrinsic" and "intrinsic" motivation. It uses case studies gleaned from the literature to explore the interactive effects between the different motivators in two different types of knowledge-intensive organisations: professional bureaucracy and operating adhocracy. FindingsWithin a professional bureaucracy, the social dilemma of knowledge sharing may be overcome through normative motivation, with provision of hedonic motivation through extrinsic incentives such as training and career progression. In an operating adhocracy where interdependent teamwork is vital, it may be overcome through normative alignment reinforced by intensive socialisation. Extrinsic motivators that align with hedonic motivation may also reinforce the propensity for knowledge sharing. In both organisational types, financial extrinsic incentives do not appear to be relevant on their own, and may "crowd out" other motivators. Research limitations/implicationsThe cases reported were chosen from the existing literature and, although many were not designed specifically to address motivational issues, suggestive conclusions are drawn. Most of the cases were drawn from organisations rooted in the Anglo-American context and thus care would be needed in generalising the findings to organisations in other contexts. Originality/valueThe paper represents the first attempt to apply a three-category taxonomy of motivation to examine knowledge-sharing behaviour in organisations. It highlights the interaction between the different motivators and provides a basis to integrate further the work of social psychologists and socio-economists on incentives and motivation in the context of knowledge sharing.

Keywords: Human resource management; Incentives (psychology); Knowledge management; Learning organizations; Motivation (psychology)

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: February 23, 2010

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