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Managing Organizational Structures

This discussion deals with the physical and non-physical divisions and barriers that influence the way knowledge management (KM) operate. By "organizational structure", I refer to the layout of the company itself and also to the various bodies that exist within it.

It is important to note that many elements within this topic stretch well outside our focus, and volumes could be written on it alone. The focus here will be only on the general elements that are directly related to KM.

Types of Organizational Structures

Organizational structures deal with the way the firm is organized, and the way people relate to one another. Broadly speaking, there are two types of organizational structure, namely formal and informal. These two concepts are not independent, and the formal structure may greatly influence informal networks, both positively and negatively.

Formal: The official structure of the organization, which is normally displayed on an organizational chart, and which denotes the hierarchical relationships between members of the firm. It is beyond the scope of this site to offer a discussion on the various formal organizational structures. However, there are a few things that are relevant to KM:

Implementing changes to formal structures can thus mean restructuring the organization, but it can also mean enforcing existing structures to a lesser or greater degree.

Informal: The unofficial organizational structures are the ones that are created through informal networks, as a result of working within the organization. They represent the way people actually interact. Brown and Duguid (1992) advocated looking at the firm as a community of communities. Increasingly, the value of these informal structures is being understood, and the knowledge manager must learn to identify and support these networks. This process is closely related to KM, since knowledge flows and repositories (particularly tacit) are dependent upon these structures. KM therefore must play a central role in their management, including identification of the structures and the knowledge they hold, implementing changes, bridging gaps between communities, and so on. Unfortunately, implementing changes to informal social networks is difficult without running the risk of disrupting them. There are however several ways that managers can influence social networks:

Alan Frost M.Sc., 2010
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