Understanding individual action: when employees contravene management directives to foster knowledge sharing




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Peer reviewed



Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to explore the implications of managerial decisions where such decisions run contrary to norms, values and espoused beliefs of individual employees, and threaten existing relationships. Design/methodology/approach – The paper is a qualitative study of a single case organization in the construction industry. Data were drawn from a wider data set of 27 in-depth interviews. Empirical findings are presented as a narrative and interpreted using Bourdieu’s habitus as an analytic tool. Findings – This paper finds that perceptions and past considerations of individual actors may determine predispositions to engage in knowledge sharing practices, in direct contravention of managerial directives. Research limitations/implications – Being a single case study, although substantive conclusions are drawn from the research they are however not subject to extensive generalization. Future research can assess the dynamics of employee reactions to conflicting directives within different contexts, to facilitate further generalizations. Practical implications – The results suggest that tensions will arise where organizational directives run contrary to individual beliefs and predispositions, and as such the onus is on organizations, wishing to avoid such tensions and foster employee commitment, to devise effective means of ensuring fit between management strategies and perceptions of organizational obligations. Originality/value – The paper contributes to the knowledge sharing literature by exploring microlevel dynamics in knowledge sharing practices. It also highlights the inherent value of sustained relationships in enabling knowledge sharing among organizational employees.



Knowledge sharing, Conflict management, Employee relations, Employee behaviour


Obembe, D. (2010) Understanding individual action: when employees contravene management directives to foster knowledge sharing. Management Research Review, 33 (6), pp. 656-666


Research Institute

Centre for Enterprise and Innovation (CEI)