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Formalising the informal? – Finding a balance between formal teams and communities of practice in a project-based organisation


There are several issues and challenges related to forming and implementing knowledge management initiatives in project-based organisations in such a way to promote knowledge sharing, learning, innovation, organisation development. One such issue is to identify proper organisational structure(s) that can support and facilitate learning and development. There are 2 commonly used organisational structures. They are formal work-teams and (informal) communities of practice (CoP). Organisations, in general, have and/or need both the formal and informal structures. The challenge that several organizations have is how to combine formal work-teams and CoP – How to find a balance between them?

This paper will look at a Scandinavian project-based organisation, and describe what this organisation has done in order to accomplish the balance. In this regard, the paper will focus on how the organisation deals with its organisational structure in such a way to facilitate learning and knowledge sharing; how it utilizes both formal teams and CoP in this process, and the challenges and opportunities that are associated with this process.

This paper is based on the study whose objective was to see how a Scandinavian project-based organisation transformed itself into a double-knit organisation – effectively using both formal and informal structures to improve its work-performance. The study used a qualitative research method; a case study that incorporated interviews (semi-structures interviews), observations and document analysis. At the start of the study, the organisation was transforming its ‘below the radar’ CoP into recognised structures within the organisation. Hence, the situation offered an opportunity to study the actual transition process.

Findings of the study discuss among other things, the organisation's formalization of (previously informal) team leadership positions, incorporating members of CoP in the advisory board and leadership roles, and formalising CoP, while at the same time strengthening formal structures such as formal teams. The organisation used social settings to encourage interaction among employees. The major findings were that for double-knit organisation to effectively work, there is a need to balance organic, informal settings (CoP) and formal teams. The study confirmed previous findings that tacit knowledge plays a very significant role in knowledge transfer in project-based organisations. The study also showed that while formal teams were easier to create and define scope for them, the same could not be said about CoP. CoP were unpredictable and seemed to work better independent of the organisational leaders’ interference. However, they were promoted by employee interactions.

As practical implications, the findings presented in this paper can be considered as suggestions – or, at least as focal points for reflection – for other project-based organisations to strengthen their knowledge management practices in order to obtain better results.


Academic article





  • Botswana
  • SINTEF Community / Mobility and Economics
  • SINTEF Digital
  • Norwegian University of Science and Technology



Published in

Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences








105 - 114

View this publication at Cristin