Overcoming Cultural Barriers to Learning and Knowledge Transfer

As a designer of learning and development solutions I am concerned with how cultural differences affect the flow of information and learning. This knowledge enables me to recommend and implement successful learning transfer strategies and pre-post learning support initiatives.

Individualistic cultures or low power distance cultures are characterized by relatively equal power sharing they discourage attention to status difference and ranking between management and employees therefore they have less incentive to share information and knowledge with others. In a work environment, individuals may believe that withholding information is the key to success.

 Initiatives which are independent of status and the degree of social or communication skills possessed by the person holding the knowledge will encourage knowledge sharing and learning transfer. Peer to peer coaching, micro teaching sessions, and mentoring schemes can be very successful here.

 Note:  please don’t assume that just because an individual is from an individualistic culture he or she is solely individualistic. The same can be said for someone from a collective culture.

 Innovative cultures rely on exchanging knowledge to enhance research and development and improve the performance of their products and services.

we share knowledge

These cultures realise that knowledge sharing is essential for success. They recognise and mobilise the right people with the right resources to get the job done. Spectrain work with a number of innovative organisations, one characteristic is that they expect and demand knowledge sharing initiatives both during and following the training. Building these interactions into the event starts at the design stage with activities that provide opportunity for learners to identify how they would implement the knowledge and who they need to involve beyond the training.

Hofstede defines collectivism as a society in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, which throughout people’s lifetime continue to protect them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty.

Groups that form in the workplace are based on trust and collaboration. To share knowledge, this trust must be well developed. Relationships prevail over the task and employees usually act in the interest of the group, whether or not it ccoincides with their own benefit, to avoid a sense of guilt and retain that feeling of belonging. The effect on knowledge sharing and transfer is that knowledge will be shared if everyone else is doing it.

The locus of trust is not in the organization itself, but resides in and between individuals. Trust can be categorised into 2 forms:

Benevolent Trust:  implies that members of an organization will not intentionally harm one another when sharing knowledge.


Competence-Based Trust relies on a belief that someone is knowledgeable about a given subject area

According to a study done by Levin et al. knowledge sharing within organizations is more successful if the knowledge recipient regards the knowledge source as being both benevolent and competent.

The type of trust is influenced by the type of knowledge that is shared, for example:

Straightforward knowledge how to wire a plug, requires less competence-based trust in the knowledge source, than when more experiential knowledge is needed, for example whether or not to take legal action.

It is therefore essential that those responsible for promoting the sharing of knowledge in an organization devote much of their time to create an atmosphere in which individuals can learn to trust one another

Spectrain’s ILM accredited course:   Consultancy Skills for Learning and Development Professionals is a must for those who wish to develop learning and knowledge transfer strategies.


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