I blogged last about tacit knowledge, using the example of London cabbies to illustrate what I understand the topic to mean. I received quite a few comments about this on Facebook and Twitter. One of the questions asked how to build tacit knowledge in organizations: How does one make tacit knowledge an organization-wide thing and even something that can travel across the organization, given that tacit knowledge is something that resides in heads and is not easily codified?
Great question, which I started to address at the end of the last post. I will give some ideas here, about this knowledge that one does not see but knows matters. First, here is another way of thinking about what tacit knowledge is--using an iceberg metaphor (I like this metaphor, which parallels my own iceberg metaphor of 'institutional context' .... tacit knowledge is mixed up in norms and cognitive frameworks, taken-for-granted ways of doing and seeing and being that drive what is but cannot be easily explained...).
By the way, the picture is taken from a Johannes Schunter blog post on powerpoint slides that have influenced his thinking about knowledge management...well worth a look.
My own ideas on building tacit knowledge in organizations center on the importance of people working together in groups -- in teams, mostly -- trying to solve problems. The teams work together, doing a variety of tasks and talking through what they did and how they did them. They touch and feel and laugh and argue together, building trust and engaging thickly in the context. The idea is to get some kind of shared experience and memory of what they did together that can then be transferred through relationships. The transfer happens when team members interact with others, often doing similar tasks in iterative processes. (We talk about snowflake structures in which this happens, where connections from team members to other teams allow diffusion.)
The approach I take is similar to Michael Irick's discussion on building tacit knowledge through communities of practice (read Managing Tacit Knowledge in Organizations). It's a good read, with a case study that parallels many of my own experiences. I appreciate the discussion of how hard this is to do, given threats of petty (and not so petty) inter-personal politics and more. Because tacit knowledge takes time and combined engagement to build, spaces need to be created and protected for the building. Irick finds these spaces hard to construct but also notes that the teams/communities of practice that get it right make a major difference.
I like working with multiple teams because I expect that they won't all succeed... but I find that the ones that do develop tacit knowledge foundations that allow adaptation, diffusion and success.