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Knowledge Diffusion through "Strategic Communities"

When faced with a global IT infrastructure transition project, Xerox managers decided to launch a knowledge-sharing initiative called the Transition Alliance. When fully functional, the Alliance comprised fifty IT professionals responsible for managing 70,000 desktop workstations, nearly 1,200 servers, and networking hardware on five continents. Storck and Hill observed that community members provided high-quality, validated solutions; handled unstructured problems well; and dealt effectively with new developments in hardware and software. The authors also point out that the motivation for learning and developing at an individual level seemed greater in this community structure than in other organizational forms, which has important implications for the longer-term job performance of the participants.

The Alliance was more than simply a group that met occasionally to discuss common issues related to a single functional or professional area. It had a defined relationship to formal organizational objectives yet was not formally required to report back to headquarters on its activities. Within the Alliance, the communication repertoire was built upon the leadership training required for all Xerox employees. Work processes that developed within the Alliance supplemented those used elsewhere in the organization. Handling action items, creating meeting agendas, and developing other processes were evidence of the self-directed nature of the group and provided a context for communication.

Storck and Hill identified six guiding principles that were instrumental to Alliance success and are applicable whenever circumstances require organizational learning:

-- Design an interaction format that promotes openness and allows for serendipity.

-- Build upon a common organizational culture.

-- Demonstrate the existence of mutual interests after the initial success at resolving issues and achieving corporate goals.

-- Leverage those aspects of the organizational culture that respect the value of collective learning.

-- Embed knowledge-sharing practices into the work processes of the group.

-- Establish an environment in which knowledge sharing is based on processes and cultural norms that are defined by the community rather than other parts of the organization.

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