Title

The Role and Use of Communities of Practice to Facilitate Knowledge Sharing in Project Based Organizations

Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2014

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Amy Javernick-Will

Second Advisor

Paul Chinowsky

Third Advisor

Matthew Hallowell

Fourth Advisor

John E. Taylor

Fifth Advisor

Raymond E. Levitt

Abstract

This dissertation builds theory regarding the form, creation, and role of communities of practice (CoPs) in project based organizations. In practice today, organizations employ CoPs as a tool to manage knowledge; however, they have deviated significantly from their theoretical roots. As such, the current practice of creating CoPs to facilitate knowledge sharing has little theoretical guidance. To further understand this current state of practice, and to help companies adapt the CoP concept to business practice, this dissertation addresses three primary research questions. 1) What are the effects of geographic dispersion and organizational divisions on communities of practice in project based organizations? 2) How do knowledge sharing connections form within distributed communities of practice in project based organizations? and 3) How do communities of practice coordinate knowledge in project based organizations? In response to these questions this research uses social network analysis to examine informal knowledge sharing networks in three distributed CoPs within two multinational project based organizations. To begin, informal networks are compared to business unit and disciplinary boundaries to determine the relative influence of organizational structures on knowledge flows (Chapter 2). Results discovered that organizational boundaries can limit knowledge flows, but are not consistent across CoPs. Subsequently, the informal networks within each CoP were analyzed relative to geographic and cultural boundaries. In all three CoPs, knowledge flows were restricted between geographic and cultural groups, and structural boundary spanning only occurred with management interventions (Chapter 3). The next chapters employ qualitative analysis to explore how and why these connection patterns occur. From the qualitative data, Chapter 4 creates a framework for understanding how CoPs form within multinational project based organizations. This analysis identified a broad range of mechanisms of connection, indicating that CoPs are heavily influenced by both social and organizational forces. Finally, Chapter 5 takes a knowledge based view of the firm, and investigates the different types of coordination occurring within CoPs (Chapter 5). Taken together, these findings create a holistic illustration of CoPs as they are applied in project based organizations. Through a greater understanding, companies can better adapt CoPs to current business practice.

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