Carnegie Mellon University
November 02, 2023

New Framework Predicts Success of Knowledge Transfer in Organizations

Sheila Davis
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Knowledge transfer, the process by which one organizational unit learns from or is influenced by another, can significantly enhance an organization's performance. But research has found considerable variation in the extent to which knowledge is transmitted across units. In a recent article published in the Annual Review of Psychology, a researcher from Carnegie Mellon University examined this variation and consolidated the contributing factors into a predictive framework for successful knowledge transfer.

Knowledge transfer between units in an organization enables one unit to learn from the experience of another. For example, one hospital trauma team might learn from the experience of another, adopting a practice the latter developed to improve patient outcomes. This knowledge transfer can save time, reduce costs, and improve quality of care. Firms that transfer knowledge  are more productive and innovative than their counterparts that are less adept at doing so.

“But knowledge transfer doesn’t happen automatically,” explained Linda Argote, Professor of Organizational Behavior and Theory at Carnegie Mellon, the article’s author. “Knowledge donors and recipients need to be exposed to a transfer opportunity, motivated to transfer, and use appropriate transfer mechanisms.”

Argote's article begins with a definition of knowledge transfer and its related concepts. It covers various types of knowledge, such as tacit knowledge, causally ambiguous knowledge, demonstrable knowledge, and interpretable knowledge. The article introduces the concept of deep transfer, which occurs when the knowledge transferred is fully understood. Argote also explores methods for measuring knowledge transfer and examines studies on pivotal factors affecting its success, including motivation to transfer knowledge and the depth of consideration of the knowledge. Finally, the author introduces a predictive framework for knowledge transfer, which not only foresees its success but also identifies potential gaps in the process.

“Given the potential of knowledge transfer to improve organizational performance and innovation, as well as its role in theories of organizations, this topic is very important to understand,” said Argote. “My framework can help organizations develop interventions to increase the success of knowledge transfer.”

The research was funded by the Center for Organizational Learning, Innovation and Knowledge at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon.

Summarized from an article in Annual Review of Psychology, "Knowledge Transfer Within Organizations: Mechanisms, Motivation, and Consideration," by Argote, L (Carnegie Mellon University). Copyright 2024. All rights reserved.