All About Centralized Metaknowledge

Let’s say you’re working on a project with a group of people, all of whom have different specializations—which is pretty much how group projects go. Someone knows C++. Someone has the most recent R&D. Someone’s worked with the client before. Well, you probably need one more person—someone who knows what everyone else knows.

A study published in Academy of Management Journal has found that teams of people with different specializations work best if one team member keeps track of who knows what. Researchers had 112 teams of three students rank five hypothetical drink products from best to worst. Each team member had a specialization, along with unique knowledge. For example, one student would be the legal team member, and that would involve knowing what ingredients might be outlawed in the future. The simulation had an ideal answer which could be arrived at if team members shared data—for example, the R&D member had the list of ingredients, which the legal member could look at for aforementioned future legal issues.

Half the teams had one member who was also in charge of metaknowledge—essentially, they had a written summaries of each team member’s specialization. In the other teams, that knowledge was divided amongst team members—so, the R&D person might know that someone else had legal information, but not realize that the same person had marketing data as well.

Teams were given fifteen minutes to talk through the products and recommend the best one—and the result is that the teams with a metaknowledge person did significantly better. When researchers watched videos of the teams in action, they found that teams with a metaknowledge person worked hard to uncover submerged information and asked more questions in general.

In an ideal world, your boss or leader would be this person, but since that doesn’t always happen, keep in mind that you can always build up your own store of metaknowledge. You don’t need to know what everyone else knows—just that they know it.

Photo courtesy of Nathan Rupert.

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