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Keywords:

  • knowledge transfer;
  • individual vs. collective;
  • teaching activities;
  • absorptive capacity: multinational corporations (MNCs);
  • international joint ventures

Abstract

We adopt a multilevel perspective to study the transfer of collective and individual knowledge. By making a clear theoretical distinction between collective and individual attributes in concepts such as knowledge, teaching approach, and absorptive capacity, this study extends the knowledge transfer literature and provides fresh insights into the ways in which collective and individual knowledge are transferred. Based on a survey of the capability transfer activities of 161 engineering units of multinationals in the Chinese automotive industry, we empirically validate the distinction between individual and collective teaching activities and absorptive capacity. More importantly, we find that the largely underexplored collective-level mechanisms, such as collective teaching and collective absorptive capacity, are more effective in transferring both collective knowledge and individual knowledge in comparison to their individual-based counterparts. Our findings also have important implications for management of multinationals and international joint ventures, particularly in emerging economies. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.