Case Study – Why Sharing is Essential to Knowledge-based Organizations

Universities are prototypical knowledge-based organizations. What should hold for all knowledge-based organizations, should definitely apply for a higher education institution, where the overarching goal is ultimately to create knowledge and disseminate it. But what happens when the information-sharing organism is flawed?

Context of the Case Study

In the context of COVID-19 higher education disruption, along with forced digitalization, a renowned technological University turned to JOIN21 to unveil opportunities for better and more efficient knowledge transfer.

Unseen walls between teaching and research can lead to slow dissemination of information and more efforts needed to achieve academic progress.

In a world where good corporate communication and collaboration are the keys of a knowledge-based economy, this University recognized that current challenges can only be faced when acting like an organization and analyzing what the key improvement areas are.

The Organization Network Analysis (ONA)

The objective and scope of the ONA was to reveal underlying patterns of collaboration in two core activities: teaching and research.

Relationships to be investigated included:

◾ advice-seeking on teaching-related matters

◾ collaboration on research-related activities.

Both relationships were used to map networks of connections among faculty members from 7 departments, both within and across groups, departments, and schools.

JOIN21 focused on identifying four network “signatures” in the teaching- and research-related networks: fragmentation, silos, innovation, and expertise.

General connectedness

JOIN21 examined key relationships—Teaching Information, Co-Teaching, Research Information, and Co-Research—and concluded that the seven groups are very well interconnected, save for some aspects.


All relationships

◾ Construction is the most well-connected

◾ Sustainable planning has only 4 of 12 possible ties

◾ The rest of the departments collaborate with other 7-11 units, but not all.

JOIN21 wanted to understand what leads to this variation and find out how to improve the quality and quantity of communication among all departments.

The “Why?” in the Four Networks

Network 1 – Teaching Information


Our experts compared Teaching Information, Co-Teaching, Research Information, and Co-Research maps and revealed the following differences:

“At a high level, we observe that Sustainable Planning is peripheral in the inter-group network defined by the Teaching Information relationship, with 2 persons acting as gatekeepers.”

Given that there are over 12 members in each group, this a very small number compared to the potential number and thus a very tenuous link between the groups.

ACTION POINT: Create a boundary-spanning link between Transport and the rest of the departments.


Network 2 – Co-Teaching

As with the Teaching Information network, it’s important to understand why Sustainable Planning is so peripheral in this network.

ACTION POINT: We advised the university what group members to bring into the co-teaching relationships that they have forged—either as co-instructors, guest lecturers, teaching assistants, etc.


Network 3 – Research Information


A familiar pattern is beginning to emerge. As with the two networks based on teaching relationships, we observe that six groups are very interconnected while a seventh— Sustainable Planning —is only peripherally so.

ACTION POINT: We suggested implementing a Monthly debrief to ensure that members of other groups obtain a detailed awareness about research conducted by Sustainable Planning, as well as what skills and capabilities its members possess more generally.


Network 4 – Research Collaboration


First, let’s consider what’s similar. Again, we observe that all seven groups for a single, interconnected component.

The density of those connections among them is much lower, however. What puzzled us is why information seeking for Research and knowledge creation is stronger than collaboration.

ACTION POINT: As cross-domain collaboration provides better knowledge creation and, ultimately, a better learning experience for the students (AKA. University customers), we advocated for a less bureaucratic way of doing cross-research.


The ties that bind – strong or frail?

We uncovered that all linkages between pairs of groups in the network are forged by just 1 or 2 people. Is this slowing down communication? What happens in the absence of these people?

We recommended all parties to the intergroup links be made aware of the bridging roles that they play in and find out if they need help or support in maintaining the relationship. We also advised the faculty members to brainstorm how others can play a similar role, as better-positioned people are more productive and help create a healthy work environment.

It is generally the case that relational “bridges” between all groups are anchored by just one to two people in each group. This latter observation represents the biggest opportunity for increasing the density of connections among all groups.

And finally, we saw a lot of peripherals and gave a heads up to Department Heads to dig deeper and see what led to this.


The 3-month notebook

The next step on the list is creating a set of tasks to be implemented by key people in the university over the span of 12 weeks, followed by a remeasurement.

Want to find out if your organization is good at creating knowledge?


JOIN21 Baseline is the first step in using Network Leadership to transform your organization.