Knowledge Management in a Virtual Team

Knowledge Management is defined as the use of different practices and techniques to collect, store and share Knowledge including information, experiences learning and insights among the current and future team members. Before the advent of information and communication technologies, Knowledge management involved the use of face-to-face interactions through classroom training, job rotation, coaching & mentoring etc. The 21st century organizations with their growing reliance on virtual teams use collaborative groupware technologies for effective knowledge management.

The major challenge in virtual teams is difficulty in sharing of tacit Knowledge. This is largely due to the social nature of tacit knowledge creation and transfer. Virtual teams bring together subject matter experts and specialists from dispersed locations to build a knowledge-intensive environment. These teams are more task-oriented, formed for accomplishment of a particular goal such as R&D, consulting, change or innovation, and are disembarked once the project is completed. The knowledge is gained during the process of task execution at an individual level. This knowledge in terms of experience and insights has to be captured and made available to the other project teams as well as future project teams.

An effective knowledge management in virtual team involves capturing and sharing of higher quality and quantity of information. There are two important inputs for effective knowledge management in virtual teams - use of appropriate communication technologies and human coordination. Some of the effective techniques for knowledge management in virtual teams are discussed below.

  1. Virtual team members should be encouraged to document their key experiences and learning during the task execution. This should be made part of their job description rather than an additional responsibility.

  2. A central knowledge repository should be hosted on corporate intranet/extranet portal or on peer-to-peer networks as a shared folder, forum or application. This repository should be easily accessible to all.

  3. The knowledge sharing should take place on regular basis using advance technology tools. This involves exchange of information related to how, what, when and by whom. These technologies combine project management tools (such as meetings), real-time communication tools (such as video-conference) and meeting productivity tools (such as polling) for effective output.

    1. This can be facilitated using ICT tools such as group emails, online tools, wikis/blogs, online forums, e-learning modules and fax. For example, using online survey software to capture opinions on decisions/strategies or making available training webinars to all the team members located in different geographies or sending group emails about the industry best practices.

    2. This is done through interactive and collaborative technologies such as web seminars, video-conferencing video-taping and virtual whiteboard. For example, using video-conferencing tools to conduct joint application development sessions or to get both offshore software development team and onshore business analyst to get clarity on client’s business requirements.

  4. The leaders should encourage a Knowledge-centric team culture. This requires empowering team members, promoting freedom of dialogue, avoiding bureaucracy and persuading learning and application of newer skills and ideas.

  5. Fostering trust and integrity among the team members plays a major role for members to share Knowledge among themselves.

Thus we see that the key to Knowledge management in virtual teams involves providing infrastructure in terms of both technology and social capital. An effective Knowledge management strategy enables organizations to tap the diverse Knowledge base of virtual team. Learning from past experiences as well as the Knowledge repository provides strong inputs for business intelligence which enhances decision making and productivity.

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