Using What We Know: Turning Organizational Knowledge into Team Performance

by Bradley R. Staats, Melissa A. Valentine & Amy C. Edmondson

Overview — An organization's captured (and codified) knowledge--white papers, case studies, documented processes--should help project teams perform better, but does it? Existing research has not answered the question, even as U.S. companies alone spend billions annually on knowledge management programs. Looking at large-scale, objective data from Indian software developer Wipro, researchers Bradley R. Staats, Melissa A. Valentine, and Amy C. Edmondson found that team use of an organization's captured knowledge enhanced productivity, especially for teams that were geographically diverse, relatively low in experience, or performing complex work. The study did not find effects of knowledge use on the quality of the team's work, except for dispersed teams. Key concepts include:

  • Using captured knowledge had a positive effect on the team's project efficiency (delivering on budget) but not on project quality (number of defects in the code).
  • When use of knowledge was concentrated in a small number of team members, efficiency improved but quality declined.
  • Knowledge use improved project efficiency but not quality for teams with less experience.
  • For more dispersed teams, knowledge use was related to improved quality but not efficiency.
  • Team knowledge use was related to improved efficiency and quality for teams completing more complex work.

Author Abstract

This paper examines when and how project teams' use of knowledge previously codified and stored in the organization affects team performance. We draw upon the team effectiveness, knowledge management, and information systems literatures to develop five hypotheses on the effects of team knowledge use on two measures of team performance (quality and efficiency), based on structural characteristics of the task and team. We also distinguish between a team's mean use of stored knowledge and the concentration of knowledge use in a team. Using objective data from several hundred software development projects in an Indian software services firm, we find that mean team knowledge use has a positive effect on project efficiency but not on project quality. Team concentration of use is also associated with project efficiency but, in contrast to mean use, is related to lower project quality. As predicted, we also find that mean team use is more positively related to performance when teams are dispersed geographically, have less human capital, or are faced with particularly complex tasks. Our findings offer insight for theory and practice into how accessing stored organizational knowledge can improve knowledge workers' productivity and help build organizational capability.

Paper Information