Cultural Issues in Knowledge Management


The notions of globalization, cultural differences, and multiculturalism at the workplace have corroborated their significance for the theory of management (Adekola & Sergi, 2007, p.1). Based on the decades-long study of scholars who work in the field of management and the experience of practitioners holding managerial positions in multicultural teams, cultural issues have been recognized as a factor that have appreciable influences on such aspects as a company’s goals and mission (Adekola & Sergi, 2007), organizational culture (Retna & Bryson, 2007; DeLong & Fahey, 2000), leadership (Halverson & Tirmizi, 2008), decision-making and problem-solving (Roembke, 2000). Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that theory and practice of knowledge management also require discussion in the cross-cultural dimension.

The topicality of the abovementioned issue is explained by two powerful processes that take place in the world economy. On the one hand, globalization: international cooperation is becoming more and more intensive, several international and global projects are growing rapidly. On the other hand, the processes of knowledge generation, distribution, and exchange also become of huge significance. The study of cultural issues in knowledge management contributes to the ability of international teams to effectively work with knowledge, understand each other and cooperate (Holden, 2002, pp. xiii-xv).

Literature Review

The impact of culture on knowledge management is understudied from the perspective of organizational culture. Containing such elements as values, norms, beliefs, organizational culture is inevitably influenced by cultural identities represented within a managerial team (Retna & Bryson, 2007, pp. 176-178). Almeida, Grant, and Phone (2002, p.74) describe the difficulties that General Motors and Toyota faced when being in an alliance and sharing knowledge and argue that they were connected with incompatibility of corporate cultures belonging to different cultural backgrounds. The role of national culture information of organizational culture is also studied in (DeLong & Fahey, 2000) and (Jarvenpaa & Staples, 2001). A deep insight into the connection between culture and knowledge management through organizational culture is conducted by Leidner, Alavi, and Kayworth (2006): the research includes a case study and discussion. Anantatmula (2010) investigated how knowledge is managed within global projects considering cultural differences among its participants.

However, the “culture-knowledge management” link can be studied not at the level of an organization only, but also at the level of an individual. Particularly, it is argued that knowledge workers representing different cultures may have different approaches to collecting, creating, processing, representing, using and sharing knowledge (Retna & Bryson, 2007). Fink and Holden (2007) mark that such criteria as individualism/collectivism, masculinity/femininity predetermine knowledge workers’ different way of thinking. A broad list of such criteria is offered by Geert Hofstede who made significant contribution to understanding cultural differences (1987). Fink and Holden refer to Gupta and Govindarajan’s model that includes five cultural factors: 1) “perceived value of knowledge”, 2) “motivation to share knowledge”, 3) “the richness of communication channels”, 4) “motivation to learn and adopt new knowledge”, 5) “ability to recognize the value of new knowledge” (p. 70). Kivrak, Ross and Arslan (2009) present the result of study that implied interviewing managers about influence of cultural differences on the knowledge management process. Holden (2002) offers a range of case studies devoted to cultural issues in knowledge management.

Aim of Research and Research Questions

The aim of study is to define and analyze cultural factors that strongly impact the knowledge management process within an organization. It is planned to omit the organizational level and to focus on the level of a single knowledge worker.

The following study questions are expected to be answered:

  1. What characteristics that belong to the field of an individual’s national identity impact his/her work with knowledge?
  2. How do the detected differences influence the way a knowledge worker operates knowledge at his/her workplace?

Methodology and Research Sample

It is planned to study the works of scholars who work in the fields of knowledge management and cross-cultural management. The second component of the study is a qualitative research that implies:

  1. Conducting a survey at the classrooms that include students who represent different cultures. It is planned to work with 4 classrooms which include: 1) 15 students, 2) 20 students, 3) 9 students, 4) 17 students
  2. Conducting an unobtrusive lesson observation at a multicultural classroom of 20 students during 3 days
  3. Conducting an interview with 10 managers responsible for knowledge management in multicultural teams of knowledge workers
  4. Conducting an unobtrusive observation of work of a multicultural team of 10 knowledge workers during 3 days.

Practical Applications

The study results can be used by scholars and managers for elaboration of practices aimed at effective application of cultural differences in managing knowledge.

Key words: knowledge management, cross-cultural management, cultural identity, cultural differences, knowledge worker, multicultural team, organizational culture


Adekola, A. & Sergi, B. (2007). Global Business Management: A Cross-Cultural Perspective. Burlington, VT: Ashgate.

Almeida, P., Grant, R., & Phene, A. (2002). Knowledge Acquisition through Alliances: Opportunities and Challenges. In Gannon, M. J., & Newman, K. L. (Eds.), The Blackwell Handbook of Cross-Cultural Management (67-77). Oxford (UK); Malden (MA): Blackwell Business.

Anantatmula, V. S. Impact of Cultural Differences on Knowledge Management in Golbal Projects. The Journal of Information and Knowledge Management Systems, 40(3/4), 239-253.

DeLong, D. W., & Beers, M. C. (1998). Successful Knowledge Management. Sloan Management Review, 39(2), 43-57.

Fink, G., & Holden, N. (2007). Cultural Stretch: Knowledge Transfer and Disconcerting Resistance to Absorption and Application. In Pauleen, D. J. (Ed.), Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Knowledge Management. Westport, Connecticut: Libraries Unlimited.

Halverson, C. B., & Tirmizi, S. A. (2009). Effective Multicultural Teams: Theory and Practice. New York: Springer, 2008.

Hofstede, G. (1987). Culture’s Consequences: International Differences in Work-Related Values. Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage.

Holden, N. (2002). Cross-Cultural Management: A Knowledge Management Perspective. Harlow: Financial Times/Prentice Hall.

Jarvenpaa, S. L., & Staples, S. D. (2001). Exploring Perceptions of Organizational Ownership of Information and Expertise. Journal of Management Information Systems, 18(1), 151-183.

Kivrak, S., Ross, A., & Gokhan, A. (2009). Impacts of Cultural Differences on Knowledge Management Practices in Construction. Fifth International Conference on Construction in the 21st Century “Collaboration and Integration in Engineering, Management and Technology”. May 20-22, 2009, Istanbul, Turkey.

Leidner, D., Alavi, M., & Kayworth, T. (2006). The Role of Culture in Knowledge Management: A Case Study of Two Global Firms. International Journal of E-Collaboration, 2(1), 17-40.

Retna, K. S., & Bryson, J. E. Asian Organizations Meet North American Management Theory: The Case of Singapore and Senge. In Pauleen, D. J. (Ed.), Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Knowledge Management. Westport, Connecticut: Libraries Unlimited.

Roembke, L. (2000). Building Credible Multicultural Teams. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library.

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