CNEE Series: Hidden Iterations

Dr. Julia Brennecke

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Wednesday, December 16, 2020
1:00 PM - 2:00 PM (GMT Standard Time)

Event Details

The Centre for Networks and Enterprise Excellence (CNEE), Heriot-Watt University, is hosting a series of virtual guest talks during the Autumn term. All are welcome, so please circulate to anyone who may be interested.  

The third talk of the series is on Wednesday 16th December 2020. Please see below for more information.

Please join us by clicking on the “Click here to join the meeting” link at the end of this email. Please note you do not need to have Microsoft Teams installed on your machine, as you can join via both the browser or the Teams app.

Hidden iterations: Work coordination via tacit and codified knowledge networks in complex engineering

Presenter: Dr Julia Brennecke (University of Liverpool)

Wednesday 16th December 2020, 13:00-14:00 (UK time)

This study takes a network approach to understand how employees in complex, engineering-intensive settings coordinate to achieve collective performance. Specifically, we uncover coordination mechanisms by which engineers use emergent networks to pass on and exchange tacit and codified knowledge within and across formal organizational hierarchies. We identify two coordination mechanisms critical for engineering-intensive work: “hidden iterations” describing the continuous exchange of tacit and codified knowledge among dyads of engineers that takes place before decisions are formalized; and “bringing in the big guns” referring to high-ranking engineers providing tacit knowledge to colleagues in order to reduce ambiguity. We link these two mechanisms to different knowledge transfer patterns that structure the engineer’s day-to-day work. Empirically, we use survey data on engineers in a large aerospace company to test hypotheses about the different knowledge transfer patterns that underpin our two coordination mechanisms. We apply exponential random graph models (ERGM) as methodology that allows us to capture multiple structure-generating patterns based on the formal organization and tacit and codified knowledge transfers simultaneously. We supplement the quantitative analysis with insights from qualitative interviews. Our findings paint a rich picture of how the distinct coordination mechanisms allow engineers to deal with the dual requirements for reliability and innovation that characterize their work. We find, for instance, that engineers transfer tacit knowledge down the formal hierarchy while codified knowledge flows upwards. Our research contributes to the literatures on intra-organizational networks and coordination in knowledge-intensive organizations.


Dr Julia Brennecke is Reader in Innovation Management at the University of Liverpool, United Kingdom. Her research focuses on networks in knowledge-intensive settings, with the aim of creating a better understanding of how and why network ties form and exposing the consequences of network connections for innovation. Her work has been published in journals such as ‘Academy of Management Journal’, ‘Research Policy’, and ‘Human Resource Management’, among others.

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