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Disabling the context for knowledge work: the role of managers' behaviours

Karl Erik Sveiby (Hanken Business School, Helsinki, Finland)

Management Decision

ISSN: 0025-1747

Article publication date: 20 November 2007




The purpose of this paper is to analyse issues that prevent knowledge sharing in organisations.


The paper contains content analysis of 691 free text comments about the climate for knowledge sharing provided by 848 employees, primarily knowledge workers, in 92 business units and departments.


The paper finds that two main issues that prevent knowledge sharing are the attitudes of the nearest supervisor and a lack of context‐building information. Apathetic managers, who do not actively encourage business/organisational information, and hypocritical managers, who do not “walk the talk”, are the main management behaviours that prevent knowledge sharing according to their subordinates in the sample. The study also suggests that a lack of organisational context‐building information and knowledge impacts the context negatively and makes knowledge workers less prone to share knowledge also in their work groups.

Research limitations/implications

The sample is too small to draw conclusions valid beyond the sample organisations. Respondents in the sample are primarily non‐managers in Europe and Australia. Context‐building knowledge and information have been largely ignored in the knowledge sharing literature. Also, non‐managers tend not to be targeted as respondents in studies on knowledge sharing. The study suggests that managers' apathy should be considered a disabling behaviour with regard to context.

Practical implications

The silo walls in organisations are built of apathy. Few managers actively prevent or resist sharing of knowledge. However, knowledge sharing requires enabling management behaviours. Sharing business/organisational information not related to tasks communicates priority and provides context necessary also for sharing in the work groups.


The paper provides useful information on issues that prevent knowledge sharing in organisations.



Erik Sveiby, K. (2007), "Disabling the context for knowledge work: the role of managers' behaviours", Management Decision, Vol. 45 No. 10, pp. 1636-1655.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2007, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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