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Role of the organizational context in tacit knowledge management

Proper management of Tacit Knowledge (TK) requires a clear understanding of the organizational context. This was demonstrated by Evangelista and Hau, (2009) where they investigated the role of different organizational factors such as management commitment, teamwork, relationship strength and cultural distance on the acquisition of explicit and tacit know-how. Their results indicate that different factors have different effects on explicit and tacit learning and acquisition of each requires different strategies. 

An organizational context possesses a lot of knowledge within itself and its proper understanding is fundamental to accurate definition and management of TK. Besides this, Holste and Fields, (2010) also stated deficiency of applying context-specific tacit knowledge in other contexts among other difficulties that may hinder tacit knowledge sharing. Therefore, clear understanding and boundaries of the context are essential for proper identification and management of TK. The underlying problem needs to be realized by working together with all the relevant stakeholders and an understanding must be developed for the expected desired solution. It is worth mentioning that a problem can be of critical importance in one context and of not that significant in another context. For example, proper functioning of a toilet in a passenger train can be of critical importance in the context of customer satisfaction but of not that significant in the context of technical installation. The approach towards the management of TK varies depending on the given context.


In the context of systems integration within the Railways sector, the TK related to the structural performance of the system is relatively well known and quite extensively converted to an explicit form. This is manifested in the form of manuals, guidelines, regulations and other related documents. For example, for the Railways sector, comprehensive and mostly reliable manuals and maintenance schedules is provided by Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) for trains and other rail infrastructure. However, TK related to functional and operational aspects of the system is often overlooked. Therefore, management of adequate TK required for proper functioning and use of the system must be determined in systems integration phase to mitigate unintended consequences which lead to safety and security issues. In addition to this, determination of the key stakeholders and their responsibilities is critical to proper tacit knowledge management in each context. The key stakeholders for systems integration context are project managers, maintenance engineers and system engineers of the railway company. With the help of experts from the field of knowledge management they can identify and prioritize different types of tacit knowledge present within and relevant for their companies. For example, the skill of riding a bicycle is a somatic TK which can only be learned through physical engagement with the subject matter and as an act of performing the action. Thus, for bicycle cycle manufacturing companies to succeed they need to be aware of this type TK and must fully utilize it while designing their products. Besides this, key stakeholders can also help in establishing appropriate strategies for managing the determined TK types within their organization.


Depending on the system type different organizational culture can prevail which require different strategies for TK management. This was demonstrated by Ribeiro, (2013) where he focused on expanding the collective TK in the pre-operational phase of the nickel plant and regards it of greater significance than somatic and contingent TK for this phase. Similarly, in the Railways sector, conductors of train possess immense collective TK about people ’s behavior and use of the train. Utilization of this TK is key to improved performance must be incorporated in, for example, the decision-making process of the train operations and designing process of new trains. In addition to this, the organizational culture of the transportation system is significantly different from the health care system. So, even though lessons can be learned in the transportation system from the healthcare system, TK management strategy will vary in both systems. For health care system somatic TK as in the case of riding a bicycle is of fundamental importance for example, for an experienced surgeon who would like to share his/her tacit knowledge to the new surgeons. However, in the context of systems integration, the managers of the railway company in a transportation system will be more inclined towards managing the contingent and collective tacit knowledge management. As in this context, the experienced managers would like to share their tacit knowledge about different kinds of judgments required to meet promised service to the customers and to avoid any unintended circumstances. Therefore, determination of the right type of TK for the given a given context must be done by the relevant stakeholders. 




Evangelista, F., Hau, L.N., 2009. Organizational context and knowledge acquisition in IJVs: An empirical study. J. World Bus. 44, 63–73.


Holste, J.S., Fields, D., 2010. Trust and tacit knowledge sharing and use. J. Knowl. Manag.


Ribeiro, R., 2013. Tacit knowledge management. Phenomenol. Cogn. Sci. 12, 337–366.