Organizing for Knowledge Management

There is no right way to organize for delivery of knowledge management. Much depends on the existing structures and responsibilities that already exist within an organization. We have already considered the rôle of the knowledge leader. But what kind of organization does he or she need in support? We consider in turn:

  • Knowledge rôles - what job positions are needed across the organization
  • KM skills - what is the complete set of skills needed, and how are these acquired
  • Organization structures - which structures seem to be the best to carry out a good KM programme.

Knowledge Rôles

Although job titles vary, these are some of the rôles that need to be covered:

  • Knowledge harvester - a person who has the skills to elicit tacit knowledge from experts and to codify it into a form that is more readily shared.
  • Knowledge analyst - typcially a person who links the needs of users with that of knowledge provision; they translate user needs into knowledge requirements and interpret new knowledge into the business context.
  • Knowledge editor - a person who refines explicit knowledge, converting it into language and formats that are user-oriented; they also synthesize the essence and nuggets from the vast amounts of unstructured information in emails, dicusssion forums and other unstructured sources.
  • Knowledge navigator - someone who knows their way around the various knowledge repositories within your organization, whether they are in databases or pockets of expertise.
  • Knowledge broker - connects people who need knowledge with those who have it; they usually have a good network of knowledgeable contacts.
  • Knowledge gatekeeper - a person who keeps tab on external sources of knowledge and directs it to where it might be useful; more proactive that the broker who handles specific user requests.
  • Knowledge steward - a custodian of knowledge resources; they ensure that knowledge is properly managed and kept up to date.
  • Knowledge facilitator - a person who is active in encouraging sharing of knowledge, whether it be through structured conversation, workshop sessions or creating other mechanisms for people to interact.

Some of these (e.g. knowledge harvester) may be specialist rôles within a central KM team. Several could be enhancement of existing librarian rôles. Most, however, are likely to be part-time rôles within a business unit. The biggest mistake that most organizations make with these part-time rôles is that they are not given sufficient importance. I would suggest, that unless the rôle represent a quarter or more of a person's time, and is not fully reflected in their key performance objectives, then it will not be carried out with sufficient focus.

In addition, do not overlook those (possibly temporary) rˆles that are needed for the implementation of the KM programme - project manager, IT specialists, change management facilitators and so on.

Knowledge Skills

The complete set of skills needed to deliver KM is in three broad groups - general business and management skills, specific knowledge and information management skills, and interpersonal and communication skills. Consultancy TFPL developed a KM skills map that defines six main groups:1

  • Strategic and business - includes business planning, risk management and change management (20 specific skills in total).
  • General management skills - measurement, prioritization, quality control, time management etc. (18)
  • Intellectual and learning skills - analysis, thinking, emoitional intelligence etc. (17)
  • Information management specialisations - abstracting, codification, information architecture, metadata etc.(32)
  • Information technology - CMS, intranet design, workflow, e-business etc. (13)
  • Communication and interpersonal - listening, influencing, mentoring etc. (19)

They also identify several key team attributes including evangelism, persuasion, persistence, pragmatism, risk taking, humble, systematic, systemic, attention to detail.

This is a useful guide, but with their 'library' clientele background TFPL emphasize specific IM rather than KM skills, such as knowledge elicitation, facilitation etc. It is also important to realise that different skills are emphasized at different stages of a KM programme. For example, analysis and influencing skills are needed at the strategy phase, knowledge of information management tools at the planning stage, and communication and training skills at the deploymnet phase.

In our work, one characteristic of good KM Team members that continually stands out is that they are good 'knowledge networkers'. They know people and continually strive to add knowledgeable people to their network, they connect and converse with them, and they mobilize their network in pursuit of their goals. In this respect they are examples of good hybrid managers - people who can straddle a specialist field such as KM, with knowledge of their business and organization.2

KM Organizational Structures

teams and networks In practice, the focus of KM in an organization is found within many different management functions - human resources, IT, information management (library), marketing and R&D to name but a few. However, in an organization=wide KM programme its tentacles should reach out into all parts of the organization. This is best achieved through some kind of networked organization structure. Various terms such as 'spider's web', lattice organization, hypertext organization, clustered webs, federation of business units, TeamNets have been used. Whatever their name, these are the recurring characteristics:

  • There is more emphasis on informal human netowkring than formal reporting structures
  • Leadership is distributed - thus a KM specialist in one business unit may lead on one aspect of KM, while responsibility for another aspect of KM resides elsewhere
  • A clear vision and set of plans / priorities provides a unifying factor across the network
  • Individual contributors are independent, yet interdependent
  • 'Boundary busting' (i.e. overcoming organizational 'silos') is achieved through conscious attention to bridging mechanisms3
  • Communities of Practice provide an efective way of knowledge networking across an organization
  • Virtual teams are often the organizational unit where the core work takes place.

In practice, structure goes hand-in-hand with the organizational culture, since it is a knowledge-enriching culture that will largely determine how well the structure works.


1. KM Skills Map, TFPL (1997).

2. The term hybrid manager was first widely used by Earl and Skyrme within the context of IT; see, for example, 'The Hydrid Manager', David Skyrme, Chapter 22 in Information Management, ed. Michael Earl, Oxford University Press (1996).

3. A range of bridging mechanisms were described by Skyrme in ref 2 above. These will be updated and be added to this website later.

Last updated: 19th March 2011



A presentation that reviews the development of knowledge management. Initially delivered to a group of MIS directors, it is the first of several presentations covering ten key themes.
(Download presentation - PDF format)


© Copyright 2011

Terms of use | Privacy notice | Contact us