All organizations need to continuously improve, getting more efficient and effective at what they currently do, while also needing to constantly adapt, aligning with, or even shaping, the circumstances around them. Both improvement and adaptation require organizations to learn.
Organizations can learn by doing, figuring out things on their own, but this can be a slow process of reinventing the wheel. They can also learn by sharing, taking insights gained in one place inside or outside the organization and then conveying this knowledge to the units or individuals that need it. Capturing knowledge about how to do things in the best possible way and then transferring this knowhow is called best practice sharing.
The three knowledge sharing bridges are the following:
- Sharing by Imitation. The first bridge focuses on learning by copying – the recipient acknowledges what seems to be working for the provider and replicates this best practice:
- Phase I: Capturing situational knowledge. It starts with the provider observing what seems to be the successful practice and becoming aware of what has been done.
- Phase II: Transferring by exposing. The provider then shows what has been done, while the recipient takes notice and builds a picture of the best practice.
- Phase III: Implementing in new situation. After ‘copy’ comes ‘paste’, with the recipient putting the acquired practice into operation in situation B.
- Sharing by Assimilation. The second bridge is all about learning by absorbing – the knowledge recipient is inspired by a provider with a higher level of best practice expertise:
- Phase I: Building expert knowledge. It starts with the provider becoming highly skilled in certain practice areas by reflecting on multiple experiences over the years.
- Phase II: Transferring by interacting. Recognizing this expertise, the recipient connects with the provider, receiving tutoring, advice, feedback, guidance, and a role model.
- Phase III: Internalizing and applying. During the interaction, the knowledge rubs off on the recipient, who then practices the new knowhow by applying it to situation B.
- Sharing by Articulation. The third bridge is all about learning by studying – the recipient reads up on best practices that have been explicitly captured in words and models:
- Phase I: Codifying conceptual knowledge. Based on the situation and previously built-up expertise, the provider inductively structures and writes down the knowledge.
- Phase II: Transferring by presenting. Once articulated on paper or in a computer database, the conceptual knowledge can be made accessible for the recipient to read.
- Phase III: Interpreting and applying. The recipient must then translate the abstract knowledge into more practical knowhow that can be applied to situation B.
- Best practice sharing speeds up organizational learning. Learning by doing is slow. Whether it involves a person or a unit, needing to find out how to improve and/or adapt takes time, so it can be beneficial to speed up the process by learning from each other.
- Best practice sharing requires three steps. Learning by sharing is done in three steps. First, the people with the best practice need to capture their knowledge by induction (zooming out from a practical situation to a more general understanding). These knowledge providers then need to transfer this knowledge to recipients, who acquire and use the knowledge in their own situation (deductively moving from general to practical).
- Best practice sharing can be done in three ways. There are three knowledge sharing bridges. The first is to simply imitate best practices, which requires people to capture and copy situational knowledge from one place to the other. The second is to assimilate best practice recipients, getting expert knowledge to rub off on them by letting them interact with highly skilled people. The third is to articulate best practices, codifying them into models and procedures that can be transferred to recipients who need to interpret and apply them.
- Sharing by articulation is the long route. Making knowledge explicit by codifying it is popular, especially among the academically trained. Yet the process is long and slow, with the danger of knowledge remaining too abstract (e.g. learning a language via its grammar).
- Sharing by imitation and assimilation is more direct. Knowledge can be shared even when it is tacit (not explicit) by simply copying what others are doing (e.g. imitating foreign language phrases) or interacting with experts (e.g. assimilating with native speakers).