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Cultural influences on knowledge sharing through online communities of practice

Alexandre Ardichvili (Associate professor, University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, Minnesota)
Martin Maurer (PhD candidate. Department of Human Resource Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana‐Champaign)
Wei Li (Doctoral student, Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana‐Champaign)
Tim Wentling (professor of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign, and Senior Research Scientist at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications)
Reed Stuedemann (Manager, Caterpillar University)

Journal of Knowledge Management

ISSN: 1367-3270

Article publication date: 1 January 2006




The purpose of this study is to explore cultural factors influencing knowledge sharing strategies in virtual communities of practice.


A qualitative research design was employed. Data collection was based on in‐depth interviews. The authors assumed that such factors as degree of collectivism, competitiveness, the importance of saving face, in‐group orientation, attention paid to power and hierarchy, and culture‐specific preferences for communication modes, would explain differences in knowledge seeking and sharing patterns.


The results showed that these factors had different levels of importance among employees in the three participating countries. The issue of saving face was less important than expected in China. Modesty requirements as well as a high degree of competitiveness among employees were found to be serious barriers to information sharing in China, but not in Russia and Brazil. Perceived differences in power and hierarchy seemed to be less critical in all three countries than initially assumed.

Research limitations/implications

Since this study was conducted among the online community members of Caterpillar Inc., the results could be affected by factors unique to this specific case. Thus, future research should investigate the influence of other factors such as the organizational culture, or occupational groups on knowledge sharing strategies.

Practical implications

Before any introduction of country‐specific knowledge sharing systems, a cultural needs assessment should be conducted.


The impact of national culture factors on knowledge sharing has been largely neglected in the literature, and the findings will assist knowledge managers charged with the design of flexible knowledge management systems.



Ardichvili, A., Maurer, M., Li, W., Wentling, T. and Stuedemann, R. (2006), "Cultural influences on knowledge sharing through online communities of practice", Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 10 No. 1, pp. 94-107.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2006, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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