Knowledge transfer

Last updated: May 19, 2021

Knowledge transfer in the workplace is the process of distributing knowledge that’s been developed in an organization with one or more specific individuals to other parts of the organization or individuals.

Knowledge transfer happens regularly, during informal water cooler conversations to formal knowledge transfer programs, such as:

  • Mentoring
  • Job/task/project shadowing
  • Temporary assignments
  • Workshops, courses, etc.
  • Overlap or partnered work
  • Creation of job aids

It’s important to remember that informal approaches, such as transition meetings and team scrums, are also very effective.

The knowledge transfer process plays an important role in the success of an organization. There’s no one-size-fits-all knowledge transfer solution; in fact, there are many approaches. The most effective approach is what works for you, your team, and your work.

Types of knowledge

Knowledge can be broken down into two primary types:

Explicit knowledge is formalized and is described as “know-what” knowledge. It's easily accessed and shared with individuals as it can be clearly recorded and documented. Explicit knowledge is easy to articulate, communicate, and store.

Tacit knowledge is personal knowledge embedded in individuals from their experience and involves intangible elements like personal belief, perspective, and values. It's described as “know-how” and is hard to articulate, communicate, and store because it's usually not written down or captured. Tacit knowledge can be the most precious source of knowledge.

Knowledge could be described as a floating iceberg. Explicit knowledge is the tip of the iceberg on top of the water, while tacit knowledge is the bottom that’s deeper and larger than the tip, but not visible on the surface.

Explicit knowledge is visible because it’s easy to access and clearly recorded. Tacit knowledge is hidden below the surface because it’s often developed through individual experience. Tacit knowledge is lost when the knowledge holder leaves the organization unless an effort is made to capture and transfer this knowledge.

It's important to take steps to retain knowledge.