Knowledge-intensive firms : configuration or community?
This thesis is a study into the nature of knowledge-intensive firm defined here as professional service firms providing tailored services to corporate clients and relying heavily on the problem solving capacity of their employees. This thesis attempts to strike a balance between a straightforward and overtly empirical piece of work which presupposes the meaning of knowledge work and an abstract contribution which questions, explores and attempts to reframe our understanding of the prevailing concept of knowledge work and of the knowledge-intensive firm. Three exceptionally successful contemporary firms are studied as potential exemplars of this seemingly new organisational form. The cases are examined from three overlapping and integrated perspectives. First, a structure and design perspective is adopted. The existing literature on the structure and design of these firms is examined and developed into an ideal type (Weber, 1978) which is subsequently used in the interviewing of employees. A more processual/contextual/alternative perspective on knowledge work is then adopted and combined with the related concept of community is applied to the study of the three cases. Finally, drawing on the historical case of early Irish monasticism, a premodern knowledge-intensive institutional form, the sense of the interrelationship between structure and community is elaborated upon and, along with some peculiarly monastic angles, applied to the three cases. The overall conclusion is that contemporary KIFs represent "plural forms" (Jeffrey, 1991) in the sense that they use different internal and external control mechanism simultaneously for the same function. While the operations of these firms are complex and unusual, the claim of a new paradigm of management underpinning these firms is rejected.