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The role of tacit knowing in organizational routines

Al-Mualla, Sheikh Faisal Bin Abdul-Aziz (2018) The role of tacit knowing in organizational routines. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

This thesis advances an interpretivist perspective on the theory of tacit knowing and its role in organizational routines. Rather than merely acknowledging that tacit knowledge plays an important role in the context of capabilities and organizational routines, it is argued how it can be understood as emerging from human agency within the context of its use. Revisiting Polanyi’s concept of tacit knowing, a theorization of this context is proposed in which the silent integrations of subsidiary particulars give shape and meaning to focal targets in the process of knowing in practice. These integrations remain tacit for the most part of human engagement in organizational routines. However, on occasions, they breakdown when routines do not produce the intended outcomes or when unanticipated events call for a change in the ways that actions are performed. It is in these moments that routine participants step back from their activities and reflect, discuss, and reassess their actions and thus may perform the same action in a different way or perform different actions. Therefore, any breakdown in the structure of tacit knowing, whether major or minor, will inevitably affect the routine actions that organizational participants engage in their daily activities. Following this theoretical exploration, a methodological approach is described for researching tacit knowing in the context of organizational routines. Building on the premises of ethnographic research and embracing the view that routines are practices enacted by multiple individuals and manifested in sayings and doings of routine participants, the approach adopted in this thesis utilizes formal (and informal) interviews based on the Critical Incident Technique and company documentation with participants in two large public-owned organizations based in the UAE. Drawing on a dialogical theory of knowledge creation it is found that due to breakdowns routine participants fail to integrate their actions and understandings in three areas related to their (a) identities, roles, and responsibilities, (b) relations with other people, and (c) the use of artifacts (objects or tools). In attempting to restore sense of these failed integrations, routine participants provide evidence not only on how routines change (or not) but also on why they do.

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