The public defence of Máté Baksa’s doctoral dissertation “Two Heads Are Better Than One: Knowledge Sharing in Organizational Social Networks” (2023) in the field of Business and Management sciences took place in June. We talked to the author of the summa cum laude dissertation about the importance of knowledge sharing in organisational networks.
Organisations exist everywhere within the framework of a society, and organisational culture is related to the culture of society. Advice seeking and knowledge sharing relationships within an organisation may be subject to external, i.e. social, socio-psychological conditions. Such as autonomous, confident individuals who dare to step outside hierarchical structures and have the courage to admit when they need help, who do not sit on information but understand the strengths of a cooperative personality.
To what extent is the internal functioning of an organisation determined by external social relations?
The cultural environment is very important. These issues are of course mainly defined by organisational culture but organisational culture is embedded in national culture. And a multinational organisation can be influenced by different national cultures: the culture of the country of the parent company, the countries where its subsidiaries operate and the countries where their employees come from.
From the point of view of knowledge sharing, cultural differences manifest themselves in two main ways. On the one hand, advice seeking and knowledge sharing imply trust between the two actors. The fact that I seek help in my work means that I am revealing to others that I don’t know how to do something. This is what trust means: daring to reveal your weakness, your vulnerability, to another person, because you hope that they will not abuse it. And sharing knowledge also shows a kind of trust: I hope that the knowledge shared will be put to good use by the other, perhaps even rewarded, at least referred to, or otherwise acknowledged.
On the other hand, in terms of cooperation, I think we find two types of individual strategies. Those who do not share their knowledge usually think that their knowledge is something rare, less accessible, it is valuable and therefore a source of power. If there is something only I know, it is a source of power, if I don’t share it with anyone, I am securing my own power. So this is one strategy. The other individual strategy is collaborative: those who regularly share their knowledge become recognised experts. At some point, word gets out that I’m a good expert, I’m worth looking out for, and that translates into expert power. The differences between competitive and cooperative strategies may also be due to personality differences, but obviously culture also has an influence. The cultural background of competition and cooperation is being researched in Hungary by Márta Fülöp and her colleagues.
Does this mean that interpersonal trust within an organisation is also affected by a lack of trust in society?
It is possible, yes. However, I would like to raise one more point, namely that advice seeking does not always happen because someone is actually curious about the knowledge of the other person. I read an article where I think they listed five reasons why someone would seek advice.
Just one of the reasons is that they really lack information, for example to solve a problem. They might need meta-knowledge, so they are actually looking for information about where the knowledge is located and who owns it, and seek information about that. Sometimes they ask the person in question because the latter expects them to do so. Or perhaps they want to legitimise the position they hold anyway. So knowledge seeking may be motivated by things that are not evident. It does not presuppose trust, nor does it necessarily require autonomy, but quite the opposite: one may be constantly asking for help from one’s boss because he/she is operating in an absolutely autonomy-deficient way.
To what extent do competitive relationships within the organisation influence the functioning of corporate social platforms?
In my latest article, which was also featured in my doctoral dissertation, I compared three large organisational patterns, and what I found there was that trust plays a different role. In organisations that are a bit more competitive by the nature of their core business – like a university, for example, where researchers are competitors even if they like each other very much – so in those organisations trust was more important, or had more explanatory power in the model. And in organisations that are more collaborative, such as a business service centre, there is a stronger sense of being in the same boat, and so trust played a lesser role.
But what is important everywhere is that they communicate regularly, that there is personal sympathy between them, and that the knowledge seeker gets the impression that the other person is well informed and a good problem solver. The power distance between employees in the organisation also varies, and depends on the organisational culture. Likewise: the importance of the boundaries between organisational units is essential. Where there are significant hierarchical divides, or silos along functions or business lines, it is also more difficult to break through these walls when it comes to knowledge seeking.
How can a manager or an HR team find competent employees who are reliable knowledge resources, if the latter work outside the team of managers and senior consultants? Actors who may not work at that organisational unit but may be fundamental to the success of the whole company or the whole organisation…
– I think that if the management of an organisation can’t see for themselves who the top professionals are, i.e. these people are not on their radar at all, the best way to locate them is to observe who their subordinates seek out spontaneously. In the Animals are Beautiful People film, we saw how the natives find a water source by capturing a monkey, giving it salt and releasing it when it is thirsty enough. It takes them to the nearest waterhole. When looking for sources of knowledge, the wisest thing management can do is to observe who their subordinates turn to for knowledge. This can be done through network research, either by questionnaires or by monitoring email traffic and other digital footprints. If they find the key people, it is worth co-opting them, bringing them on board, so they can be relied upon to make executive decisions.
It is not uncommon for the person to whom most staff turn for knowledge and professional help not to be the best expert in the organisation. He/she is a pretty good professional, no offence, but not the best – but is the best at passing on knowledge. For instance, because he/she is available to others, helpful or just good at explaining things. So the best knowledge host is not necessarily the best knowledge broker.
One of the central topics of the doctoral defence was the issue of article-based doctoral dissertations. This means that the dissertation is not a monograph, but an organic synthesis of several already published articles. This dissertation was also based on papers. Why is this genre spreading among researchers nowadays?
I am glad I chose this genre because in economics, the journal article is the primary form of scientific communication today. In this respect, an article-based doctoral dissertation is a better proof of research ability than a monograph. Controversy surrounds the genre because, although this option has been available at our university for some time, reviewers and boards used to monograph dissertations sometimes find it hard to cope with change. However, the pace of scientific communication has accelerated and the whole publishing world has changed in recent decades.
While 50-100, or maybe even 20-30 years ago, books were the primary medium for knowledge transfer, this is no longer the case. Some fields, such as computer science, have accelerated to the point where researchers no longer follow journal articles, but conference papers and presentations: they cannot wait for an article to go through the traditional peer review process, because by the time it does, the information is out of date. It is not easy to keep up with the pace of knowledge creation today, and it is a good idea to prepare for this during the doctoral process: if you write an article-based dissertation, you will probably have a few published articles before you enter the job market as a researcher.
Author: Júlia Sipos (VIK-Alumni)