Organizational and Cultural Barriers to Knowledge Sharing in Traditional Universities

Discussion and Analysis

The analysis of the survey data suggests that the barriers to knowledge sharing at The UWI are not individual problems. The analysis of the interview and that of the survey data has shown a lot of discrepancies. The similarities that have been found are regarding organizational barriers. There are different barriers that have been identified through the survey and are segregated into three categories viz. individual, organizational, and technical (Bock, et al. 2005, Riege 2005). From the analysis of the above data, it can be certainly concluded that at UWI the primary reasons for the lack of knowledge sharing are low key motivating factors. Kalling and Styhre (2003) comment on the relative lack of attention paid to the role of motivational factors that influence knowledge sharing behaviors. There are

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  • Individual: Lack of benefits to employees, fear of personal knowledge being misused by peers, and fear of being reprimanded by colleagues.
  • Organizational: Lack of collaborative environment, absence of team learning, lack of motivational impetus to promote knowledge sharing, and failure to use resources to the optimum.

Individual Factors

The survey showed that the top three reasons for sharing knowledge in the UWI are individual factors wherein the faculty believes it is their interest in sharing the knowledge which initiates the process, they have a feeling of corporate citizenship which makes them believe that sharing of knowledge would help their colleagues in their research, and individuals feel empowered while sharing knowledge with their colleagues. These findings totally disagree with the focus group interview findings and create a paradoxical situation in UWI knowledge sharing.

At an individual or employee level, knowledge-sharing barriers are often related to factors such as lacking communication skills and social networks, differences in national culture, overemphasis of position statuses, and a lack of time and trust.

Almost 60 percent of the respondents believe that their colleagues may take unjust credit for the work they have done if they shred knowledge. This again is indicative of a lack of trust in the culture of the organization. Most people are unlikely to share their knowledge without a feeling of trust: trust that people do not misuse their knowledge or trust that knowledge is accurate and credible due to the information source.

A detailed assessment of the quality of external tacit or explicit knowledge is often impossible due to source and time constraints. It is mostly in informal networks that people trust each other, voluntarily share knowledge and insights with each other, and collaborate actively and willingly. Sharing activities can neither be supervised nor forced out of people (Stauffer 1999), but the level of trust between a company, its sub-units, and its employees seems to have a direct influence on the communication flow and thus the amount of knowledge sharing within and between business functions or subsidiaries (De Long and Fahey 2000).

Further survey responses are indicative that faculty members do not get time to share knowledge. Sharing knowledge has a certain cast of participation which can be measured in terms of time and effort (Gibbert and Krause 2002). But this creates a dilemma in the mind of knowledge sharers (Barry and Hardin 1982, Marwell and Oliver 1993). A knowledge asset contributed for the good of the organization can be used by others regardless of whether or not they make a contribution in return (Dawes 1980) This dilemma is intensified when expertise (i.e., personal reputation) is highly valued in an organization but mentoring or assisting others is not (Leonard and Sensiper 1998) This dilemma ultimately becomes a barrier to sharing of knowledge which has been identified as a reason for knowledge sharing.

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Lack of time as a hindrance to knowledge sharing has been portrayed in many studies which demonstrated the problems were hindering participation rates in knowledge exchange systems in their companies, many of them confirmed that people did not seem to have enough time to participate and that they saw the little reward for sharing their knowledge (Michailova and Husted 2003, O’Dell and Grayson 1988).

Research findings show that the faculty members at UWI do not get access to any of the knowledge resources of the institution. As an answer to the open-ended question regarding the access the faculty members are given to access the “pool of knowledge resources” at the universities, most of the respondents said that they did not have access to the knowledge resources. Even though the focus group interview suggested that UWI possesses a good infrastructural base, especially IT infrastructure, faculty members hardly gain access to them. This becomes a hindrance to knowledge creation as well as sharing. Previous research has shown that knowledge management at educational institutions preempts sharing of knowledge through designs for linking people, processes, and technologies and discusses how organizations can promote policies and practices that help people share and manage knowledge (Petrides and Nodine 2003).

Organizational Factors

UWI is found to face organizational barriers to sharing of knowledge. The study revealed various systems related to and created barriers that affect the culture and climate of the organization as well as the quality of social interaction has been discussed.


From the analysis of the data collected through a survey questionnaire, it has been found that the staffs are eager to share knowledge. This is contradicting the finding through the survey and that of the interview where it was found that the faculties are reluctant to share knowledge. the staff even though eager to share knowledge according to the management view are not willing to share because they fear sharing of knowledge may reduce their credibility and/or their unique position as a knowledge holder. The main knowledge-sharing barrier is the fear of sharing knowledge (Chaudhry 2005).

It has been argued in the literature that the employees’ personal belief structure and the institutional cultural factors induce this fear (De Long and Fahey 2000). As sharing of knowledge requires time and effort, which the faculty feels they do not have, they see knowledge increment as a personal investment and are not too eager to let go of their share of credibility by sharing it with others. But our research findings in the case of UWI cannot be successfully validated, as the hypothesis testing does not provide any significant result.

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Non-formalization of Roles

The greatest barrier thus in UWI is knowledge sharing not being a job requirement of faculty members. Most faculty members at UWI said that they did not involve in knowledge sharing, as it is not a part of their job profile.

Organizational Structure

This is due to the reason as portrayed by Guptara (1999) whose research showed a relation between knowledge sharing and organizational structure. As the structure of UWI primarily follows, a top-down hierarchical structure has to formalize knowledge sharing as a role or function of the employees which would help in the quicker implementation of the process. Business organizations should adopt an organizational structure (OS) that matches and supports their strategy. OS includes division of labor, departmentalization, and distribution of power which is necessary to support the information and decision process of the organizations.

It is defined as the specification of jobs to be done within an organization and the ways in which those jobs relate to one another (Ebert and Griffin 2005). There are two types of organizational structure; one is bureaucracy and the other is task force (Nonaka and Takeuchi 1995). The bureaucratic structure is believed to hinder the flow of knowledge hence it should be discouraged. Taskforce structure is flexible and adoptable which brings a team or group together to deal with problems (Ang and Massingham 2007).

OS needs to support the knowledge transfer and must contribute towards the creation and reuse of knowledge for the successful implementation of KM in the organizations. It must be capable enough to administer the knowledge-related activities. Creating an organizational structure to manage knowledge is by no means enough for the success of KM, but it is an important ingredient of success (Devenport and Volpel 2001).

Lack of organizational structure can discourage KM activities which certainly hinder the prospect of KM in the organizations. But in the case of UWI, the process was not made a duty of the faculties which would have ensured knowledge sharing but currently has become the greatest hindrance. Further, this has implications from the cultural hindrances to knowledge sharing. Further, another stream of researchers would suggest that this finding is indicative of a lack of sharing of ideas among employees which is prevented due to the company policy and becomes a significant hindrance to knowledge sharing. This finding supports the research findings of Petrides and Nodine (2003).

Organizational Culture

As the organizational structure of UWI is hierarchical, the culture is also layered. The nature of hierarchies is to militate against communication and internal relationships. Hence, the culture of the organization too, becomes a hindrance to knowledge sharing. McDermott and O’Dell (2001) found culture plays a significant barrier to knowledge management has been found to hold true even in the case of The UWI.

We saw that cultural factors like the open collaborative process or team learning is not supported by the UWI. This has been lacking in UWI. This was clear from the responses posed in the survey that there was a lack of sharing of information and collaboration among colleagues which was demonstrated through the fact that was reported that most of the faculty responses showed that they “generally do not know what my colleagues are doing so I am unable to support them”.

Further as discussed by Guptara (1999) structure and policy play a vital role in the effective sharing of knowledge in organizations, and this has been found to hold true in this case. There is a lack of communication among employees that prevents proper knowledge sharing in the universities and has been a case in UWI. Further, from the survey, it can be derived that there is a lack of socialization among faculty members. This can be shown through the research finding which indicates that informal communication among colleagues in low which according to the survey is mostly around 0-19 percent of the time they interact. This is indicative of a non-interactive culture which does not foster knowledge sharing.

Lack of management Initiative

Further top management commitment can be held responsible for lack of knowledge sharing. This can be deduced from the fact that faculty did not get time to involve in knowledge sharing with their colleagues. Top management is responsible for each and every activity at all the levels of the organizations. It is instrumental in development of organizational structure, technological infrastructure and various decisions making processes which are essential for effective creation, sharing, and use of knowledge. Effective knowledge creation and sharing require long term commitment and support from top management in recruitment and retention of right people (Brand 1998).

Lack of top management is the most critical barrier for a successful KM implementation, particularly in knowledge creation and sharing (Chong and Choi 2005). It is also responsible for identifying organizational strength and weaknesses as well as analyzing the opportunities and threads in the external environment (Goll, Johnson and Rasheed 2007). The top management has to conceptualize a vision about what type of knowledge should be developed and used into a management system for implementation (Nonaka and Takeuchi 1995).

Lack of Motivation

Lack of motivation to share knowledge is a hindrance to sharing knowledge in UWI. Organizational goals can’t be achieved unless organizations integrate the concept of motivation and rewards to its employees. Motivation can be provided through recognition, visibility, and inclusion of knowledge performance in appraisal systems and incentives (Hariharan 2002). The motivation could be either intrinsic or extrinsic.

Due to the lack of sufficient extrinsic and/or intrinsic rewards to compensate individuals for the costs of sharing knowledge becomes a common barrier to knowledge sharing (Constant, Kiesler and Sproull 1996, Petrides and Nodine 2003). Recent research on knowledge sharing suggests that the relative lack of attention paid to the role of motivational factors can influence knowledge sharing behaviors (Lou, et al. 2007). Employees share their knowledge easily when motivated. It is critical for sharing of both types of knowledge tacit as well as explicit knowledge.

HR Policies

The reasons that affect knowledge sharing most at The UWI are the lack of knowledge sharing environment, structure, and culture of the organization, and the barriers from HR policies. The respondents say that they do not get access to any of the knowledge resources of the institution. The result is indicative that the institute does not have any policy to reward knowledge sharing among staff.

Also, the environment does not help in open collaboration among staff members which can lead to knowledge sharing. Further, the interview showed time as a factor that staff complains about which prevents them from sharing knowledge. While the university does not provide individual motivation in terms of increased salary or positive performance appraisal, this does not seem to have any bearing on the staff attitude about sharing their knowledge.

Lack of Team Building and Learning Efforts

One barrier that has been identified in terms of the organizational commitment to knowledge sharing is the lack of and the environment for “team learning”. Most of the respondents believe that there is a no team learning in the UWI. Team learning can be implemented by top management initiative and a harboring a culture for sharing among teams. Several scholars (De Long and Fahey 2000, Davenport, De Long and Beers, Successful knowledge management projects 1998, Davenport and Prusak, Working Knowledge 1998 ) have argued that creating a culture that values creativity, continuous improvement, and the sharing of ideas is necessary for knowledge management initiatives to succeed.

Sharing of knowledge among teams and distrust is prevalent in UWI which is shows through a major percentage of respondents indicating that they are reluctant to share knowledge because of fear of job security and the insecurity of being exposed of their lack of knowledge in front of students and other faculty members. Knowledge advancement is fundamentally a socio-cultural process, enhanced by cultures of innovation. Bakhtin (1986) uses the term “intertextuality” to indicate how the voices of others are integrated into what we think, write, and say. “Standing on the shoulders of giants” is a rough approximation.

Cultures of innovation provide a broader base, making productive use of diverse contributions and allowing innovation to become the cultural norm (Drucker, 1985). How KM should be implemented depends on the structure and the formal information system flow system of the organization (Guptara 1999).

An organization with a top-down hierarchical structure will find it easier to implement a common data storage system (for all it will take is the top management pronouncing the implementation of the same and the need to abide to it) than in a flat, project oriented structure. The formal structure of most companies prevents KM from operating. Most companies are organized by function, region, division or business unit each complete with its own recruitment, induction, and reward systems based on its “own” bottom line (Guptara 1999).

Lack of team learning has created an environment which lacks trust of knowledge sharing. But this has not been an acute reason in UWI. This has provided a mixed finding. In one hand, faculty members feel that their colleagues will not misuse the knowledge shared with them and on the other, they feel that their incompetence may be revealed in front of colleagues if they shared their knowledge.

Ability- or competence-based trust exists when an individual believes that another party has knowledge and expertise in relation to a specific domain (Riege 2005). This facet of trust can be related to the fear of losing face that many researches has identified as one of the main barriers to knowledge sharing (Tschannen-Moran 2001, Urch-Druskat and Wolff 2001). For example, if a member’s perception of her own competence is significantly lower than the level of competence that she associates with the virtual community, then the motivation to publicly share her knowledge may be affected due to the fear of criticism or ridicule.

This suggests a causal link between one’s perceptions of the community’s ability and engagement in knowledge sharing, whereby high levels of competence-based trust could restrict the knowledge shared with a community. However, whereas this argument appears to make logical sense, the converse does not logically hold. Where a member perceives a community to be of low competence, such a perception is unlikely to encourage knowledge sharing. In fact, such perceptions are more likely to discourage any form of voluntary participation in the community.


Clearly, there are more organizational barriers to knowledge sharing than individual factors. The institutional factors at the university especially the lack of collaborative environment and culture are barriers for knowledge sharing. There are other factors such as lack of motivation being provided to staff to engage in knowledge sharing activities. Further, due to lack of open environment for knowledge sharing staff have a fear of malpractice with their knowledge by their peers. This can be removed from the staffs’ mindset only through a collaborative environment.

Hence, the research findings from the survey support the fact that organizational barriers and top management neglect of creating a knowledge management environment has create a void for knowledge sharing in UWI. This finding supports the other research findings like that of Ratcliffe-Martin, Coakes and Sugden (2000) who argued that mostly universities failed to manage information and knowledge efficiently. They tend to lose it, fail to exploit it, duplicate it, do not share it, do not always share it, do not always know what they know and do not recognize knowledge as an asset. The primary hindrance in knowledge sharing arises out of personal beliefs and organizational structural factors, which has been confirmed by other researches (Bock, et al. 2005 ).

The present research found knowledge at UWI to be in a static state which is characterized by unchanging, facts, existing independently of the knower, located in the world as discoverable “truths” (Nosek 2004). There is a marked lack of dynamism in the knowledge management process. The research findings show a marked lack of socialization in the interaction level of faculty members of UWI. Currently knowledge at UWI is more of an individual property and sharing of knowledge is not helped by the institution.

The research found a marked requirement for establishing knowledge-building communities which should be developed and maintained (Bereiter and Scardamalia 1993). Lack of socialization among faculty members has stagnate the knowledge and too much of internalization of knowledge in individuals. The faculty members have reported paucity of time and no informal interaction with peers which implies low level of socialization and leads to a hindrance to the cyclic social process based on four modes: socialization, externalization, combination, and internalization (Nonaka and Konno 1998).

Here socialization includes the essential social interaction that is needed to learn new knowledge which is low at UWI; externalization converts tacit knowledge to explicit especially when the faculty members will participate or conduct more seminars which is low due to the lack of personal and institutional motivation factors; combination facilitates transfer of explicit knowledge to explicit knowledge, for example through meetings or discussions.

The last mode is internalization that converts the explicit knowledge back to tacit knowledge where the knowledge in re-created. Research has emphasized the need for social opportunities where the cycle would be facilitated. Hence, lack of social networking at UWI is a major hindrance created by individual and institutional factors that curbs knowledge sharing among faculty members.

The fundamental problem thus which requires attention in UWI to improve sharing of knowledge is the organizational factors which affect the culture of the institute which becomes the roadblock for effective knowledge sharing. Culture here is defined as the shared values, beliefs and practices of the people in the organization (Schein 1992), and includes the impact of non-rational “people-factors” that are so often un-discussable in organizations (Smith and McLaughlin 2003).

These factors include the majority of the faculty’s belief that if they share their knowledge with fellow colleagues and students their ignorance may get divulged or they might use it unjustly and take credit for it or of fear of job security. This problem of mistrust and fear arises out of the organizational culture and climate (Bock, et al. 2005 ). Sharing of knowledge is thus hindered due to the lack of trust (Hinds and Pfeffer 2003), an open climate which ensures free flow of information ( (Hinds and Pfeffer 2003, Leonard and Sensiper 1998), a climate that is tolerant of well reasoned failure (Leonard and Sensiper 1998), and a climate infused with pro-social norms ( (Constant, Kiesler and Sproull 1996, Hinds and Pfeffer 2003, Wasko and Faraj 2000 ).

Further due to the lack of any formal rule that makes knowledge sharing a part of the job profile of faculty members it is not taken seriously by faculty members (Bock, et al. 2005 , Coleman 1999). Further, the analysis of the data showed that there is lack of a trusting climate and pro-social norms that works as a facilitating factor for knowledge sharing while considering the degree of tolerance at the UWI, it seems that the institute is tolerant of failure within which information can flow (Bock, et al. 2005 ). Even though there exists high level of organizational citizenship in the faculty members of UWI (as found through the research), mutual and social exchange is evidently low which hinders knowledge sharing.

Hence, from the research findings it can be suggested that even though high degree of organizational citizenship is said to create mutual social exchange relationships in organizations, but a lack of trusting climate and positive culture hinders the flow of knowledge and thus the sharing process. Further, due to the lack of institutional support through individual motivating factors such as more time to foster informal groups of knowledge sharing, or rewards or recognitions (only funding for research is available), faculty members feel that sharing of knowledge will not help them in any ways. Hence, socialization among members fails to create and share knowledge.


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