From Richard Lalleman

December 21, 2008

In order to graduate with an MSc in Information and Knowledge Management I was required to submit a research dissertation. This research acknowledges that knowledge management is a cross-disciplinary practice with strong links to organizational learning and complexity theory. Organizational learning is the process that enables an organization to adapt to change and move forward by acquiring new knowledge. Complexity theory is the theory that argues that acquiring new knowledge evolves through the cognition in human organizations. So, to compete and be innovative in a fast-moving environment, organizations should enhance organizational learning by understanding the strength of cognition. Managing this cross-disciplinary practice requires a new form of leadership and therefore the research discovered crucial leadership behavior and generated evidence of how leadership behavior enhances organizational learning.

First, the research was undertaken to develop a theory and model on how to enhance the creation of knowledge in organizations through leadership behavior. This theory and model did not aim to give the leader a description of only one particular leadership behavior. New opportunities and problems should be seen in its social context. Therefore it was important to develop a theory and model that kept the identified leadership behavior in its social context. In this respect, the model adapted two frameworks for understanding the social context and one framework for understanding what type of knowledge is flowing in the different organizational contexts.

The frameworks for understanding the social context were the Cynefin framework by Kurtz and Snowden, and the four modes framework for decision making by Choo. This research adopted two frameworks because both frameworks sort issues faced by leaders in four organizational contexts – simple, complicated, complex and chaotic context – that require leaders to diagnose situation and to act in contextually appropriate ways.

The framework for understanding the different types of knowledge was based on Cook and Brown’s assumption of an organization’s intellectual capital – explicit knowledge, tacit knowledge and knowing as action. Consequently, after identifying the organizational context and the different types of knowledge, the organizational learning processes promoted by the corporate leader together with the leadership characteristics were placed in the social context.

Second, the theory and model was being tested against real life through the analysis of a published case-study and three interviews with leaders from international organizations with each a different management structure: a partner management structure, a flat management structure and a traditional hierarchical management structure. As a result, these qualitative research techniques resulted in the identification of new leadership characteristics.

The main conclusion is that leaders are enhancing organizational learning by promoting effective communication. Effective communication increases the participation of staff members in the process of sense and decision making regarding problems or opportunities faced by an organization. Where the tools applied by leaders to improve the effectiveness of communication are different, they have in common, except for one organization, they document tacit knowledge on a Wiki in order to enhance organizational learning. This raises the question whether it is recommended to invest time in adding content to a Wiki while fast-moving environments of organization are requiring speedy sense and decision making in order to compete.

This research resulted in a new proposed theoretical framework to identify leadership’s characteristics in its social context. By adapting this model, good practice in leadership and organizational learning can be mapped and made available to leaders who require tools to effectively move the organization through different situations. Richard Lalleman finished his research dissertation with a distinction from the London Metropolitan University. He recently moved to Copenhagen where he is now looking for a job. If you have any questions or comments, please do contact him via email

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The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

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