Is it necessary to have a knowledge management function within an organization in order to do KM?

Originally answered May 5, 2017

You need to have at least one person dedicated to knowledge management in order to make it work. But you don’t need to have a large, bureaucratic KM function.

From KM Program Governance:

A knowledge manager should be assigned to lead the KM efforts of an entire organization, or any group within an organization. In this role, they will be the KM leader for their group. In the ideal case, this is a full-time job, but in some cases for smaller groups, it may be a part-time role.

From Knowledge Managers and KM Leaders:

You need to have at least one knowledge manager to lead the KM initiative. Knowledge management is everyone’s responsibility, not just the work of knowledge managers. But knowledge managers are needed to raise awareness, align knowledge actions with business priorities, promote a knowledge sharing culture, engage senior leadership, manage the infrastructure, and support all knowledge workers.

From 16 Knowledge Management Myths Debunked:

KM Myth 12: We Should Work Ourselves Out of a Job

Another thing I hear frequently is that we should work ourselves out of a job. Knowledge management is everyone’s job. Therefore, we don’t really need knowledge management as a department. We don’t really need to be full-time knowledge managers. Our goal should be to not even need knowledge managers anymore. When I hear that, I always say, “What about Finance, HR, and Operations? Is it their goal to work themselves out of a job? Are we going to get rid of the Finance department because finance is all of our jobs?”

I think this is a fundamental mistake. It’s all of our jobs to actually share and learn and do the things that knowledge management includes. For anything to actually get led in an effective way, there needs to be somebody leading it. To say that there will be no one leading knowledge management and everyone will just do it is naive. It’s not that you need a gigantic knowledge management team, but you always need at least one person who is worrying about this. You may need a few more.

When you say it’s everyone’s job, it’s everyone’s job to do it, but it’s not everyone’s job to be the advocate for it, to be the champion for it, to be shepherding all the people, processes, tools, and components that go into knowledge management work. I don’t think we’re trying to work ourselves out of a job. We’re trying to do is ingrain knowledge-sharing into the work of everyone else, but not necessarily to eliminate the people trying to lead the effort.

If you have an organization with a few people, with someone leading people and someone leading process and someone leading technology, and you have some extended virtual team members, that may be all that you need. You don’t necessarily have to have some monolithic giant structure, but I think you need something in order to shepherd knowledge management.

KM Myth 13: Bigger is Better

Some KM practitioners say, “The bigger team we have, the better. The more power I’ll have. The greater importance I’ll have in the organization. I’ll be measured by that.” So they’ll build up large teams. They’ll develop large offshore presences, and they’ll think this somehow signifies that they’re important or doing good work. But large doesn’t necessarily mean more effective. In fact, many times the larger you get, the less effective you get because you’re spending all of your time coordinating and communicating with many, many people, and if you get down to a smaller number, you have to spend less time doing that.