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Nurturing Interpersonal Trust in Knowledge-Sharing Networks

Lisa C. Abrams

IBM Institute for Business Value

Rob Cross
University of Virginia

Eric Lesser
IBM Institute for Business Value

Daniel Z. Levin
Rutgers University

Academy of Management Executive, November 2003, Vol. 17, No. 4, pp. 64-77.

Finalist, AME Best Paper Award (2003)

Executive Summary

In many organizations informal networks are the primary means by which employees find information, solve complex problems and learn how to do their work. Two forms of interpersonal trust—trust in a person’s competence and in a person’s benevolence—enable effective knowledge creation and sharing in these networks. Yet, though conceptually appealing, trust is an elusive concept that is often difficult for managers to influence. We conducted interviews in 20 organizations to identify ways that interpersonal trust in a knowledge-sharing context develops. Based on this work, we summarize behaviors (e.g., discretion, consistency, collaboration) and practices (e.g., building shared vision, ensuring transparency in decision making, holding people accountable for trust) for managers interested in promoting trust (and thereby knowledge creation and sharing) within their own organizations.

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