The purpose of this paper is to present an empirical contribution towards the understanding of the process of sharing practical knowledge (PK) in a hostile work environment. The particular focus is an instance of the process of sharing PK between experienced and non‐experienced workers in a bio‐pharmaceutical industry.
An interpretive perspective was applied in the inductive and qualitative empirical study. Case study methodology was applied in order to analyse the sharing of practical knowledge.
Research findings from this study have unravelled characteristics of this process that to date have not been discussed in the literature. First, Learning‐by‐observing has limitations in promoting PK sharing in hostile environments. Second, because there is a wide range of alternative solutions for performing a specific task, sharing PK lends itself to political uses. Third, socialisation is important in order to facilitate the sharing of PK, but it is not enough. Political issues surrounding PK sharing shape socialisation processes and therefore provide a better explanatory base for PK sharing. Fourth, the use of standard work processes to share PK is limited in complex tasks. Thus, it is argued that the main features of PK support high levels of uncertainty that in turn favours the use of political behaviour in the process of sharing PK.
Focussing on sharing PK in hostile environments is important since the literature has mainly focussed on organisations in which consensus and participation were either implicitly or explicitly assumed.
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