Knowledge transfer across countries and cultures : an international theory-building case study

Stanley, Tracy (2003) Knowledge transfer across countries and cultures : an international theory-building case study. Masters by Research thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


While the importance of knowledge creation and management has been widely recognised as vital to an organisation's ongoing competitiveness and success since the 1990s, there has been little systematic study of knowledge creation and transfer processes in organisations. Much of what has been reported in the literature is anecdotal in nature.

Particularly lacking is research within an international context, exploring issues related to the transfer of knowledge across countries and culture. It is proposed that there is a need for theory building research in the area of knowledge transfer.

Given the complex and social nature of knowledge, a qualitative approach to undertaking this research was adopted. The study is an inductive, theory-building case study in relation to a multinational company.

In summary, this study evaluated the effectiveness of a best practice knowledge management program in achieving knowledge transfer in sales and marketing practices throughout the markets of Europe, Middle East, Africa and Latin America. It considered the methods by which knowledge was transferred and their relative effectiveness, and those factors which may have mediated or limited the knowledge transfer processes.

The research was undertaken by the company's Knowledge Manager who had created the best-practice knowledge transfer program. The implications of this situation on the study's validity and reliability are discussed, and were taken into account in the design of the questionnaire and in the analysis of all findings.

The case study site was a European-based, global travel technology company. The principal data-gathering method was a structured interview conducted by telephone with senior staff from within 28 European and Latin American markets. In total, 31 interviews were undertaken. This broad-ranging interview method gathered information and feedback on the processes used for identifying and distributing best practices in sales and marketing. The interview data were supplemented by feedback questionnaires from best practice forums, intranet usage statistics, observations from best practice forums and from interviews with staff in the central organisation.

While there was evidence that knowledge transfer had occurred, the results of the study highlighted the difficulties in effectively measuring the knowledge transfer process. It is the researcher's view that clear and visible measures of knowledge transfer are not universal or even generic, but rather are to be discerned in a range of indicators across actions, behaviours, attitudes and outcomes in culture-specific settings. A time based knowledge measurement model was developed to assist in this regard.

Other major outcomes from the research included:

  • The confirmation of the critical importance of face-to-face communication mechanisms for knowledge transfer to result in knowledge uptake.

  • The identification of the role of technology as an enabler of communication and distribution of knowledge, but not as a driver for action or knowledge uptake.

  • The recognition of the relationship between the broad factors impacting on knowledge transfer such as organisational factors, external environment and individual characteristics, in a complex and non-linear manner, suggesting that knowledge transfer is a multi-factorial process involving interacting variables to an extent greater than generally accepted hitherto. A tool for use within organisational settings has been developed in this regard.

  • The identification of the interplay between different individual specific characteristics or factors such as personal experience of change, experience of working in a different cultural context, ego/personality, and credibility of the person transmitting the practice which influence the decision to adopt or not adopt a practice from another market.

  • The identification of the need for cultural similarity and high levels of homogeneity, in terms of market maturity, market size and competitive position for practices to transfer more often between countries.

  • The recognition that many factors operate to influence and shape the knowledge or indeed to block the transfer of practices between countries, with resistance to other practices possibly relating to an individual's need for the application of creativity, personal ownership and control.

Additionally, the researcher observed that much of the language within the existing literature describing those factors which block or limit knowledge transfer is negatively framed. The researcher believes that a change in attitude about the positive influence of an individual's filtering processes, together with a change in organisational language describing resistance to knowledge transfer, would yield a positive impact on individuals' attitudes and behaviour with regard to knowledge transfer.

Several areas for further research as a result of the study were identified and include individual factors such as cultural characteristics, motivation, personality and adult learning styles. Additionally, a more detailed examination and understanding of the impact of organisational factors such as leadership and generational gaps on knowledge transfer would be of significant value to the body of knowledge.

Impact and interest:

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ID Code: 15880
Item Type: QUT Thesis (Masters by Research)
Supervisor: Davidson, Graham
Keywords: knowledge management, organisational learning, Knowledge transfer? knowledge measurement, barriers to knowledge transfer, tacit knowledge, culture, indicators of knowledge transfer, knowledge filters
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > QUT Business School
Department: Faculty of Business
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Copyright Owner: Copyright Tracy Stanley
Deposited On: 03 Dec 2008 03:52
Last Modified: 02 Oct 2014 00:26

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