The Importance of Trust in Knowledge Sharing

Stan Garfield

Stan Garfield

March 18, 2021

How does the presence, or absence, of trust affect knowledge sharing and the effectiveness of a knowledge management program?

People may be afraid that if they share knowledge, people they don’t trust will misuse it or use it without attribution. Or that if they ask for help, they will be criticized as ignorant or unable to do their job. And they may think that their leaders don’t trust them, and thus might be afraid of being told to stop wasting their time.

Their concerns include:

  1. Can I trust the answers and advice provided by others?
  2. Can I open up and be candid?
  3. Can I share information without being embarrassed?
  4. Can I ask a question without appearing ignorant?
  5. Can I trust people not to misuse the content I share?
  6. Can I trust people to give me credit for information I provide?
  7. I’m worried about giving the wrong answer to a question.
  8. I’m reluctant to share information that may not be the very best.
  9. I’m worried about being criticized, blamed, or ridiculed.
  10. I’m afraid that I might be perceived as wasting my time by participating in an enterprise social network (ESN).

These concerns may prevent them from asking for help in the open, from sharing information, or from spending time participating in communities and ESNs.

Leaders may be concerned about the following:

  1. Can I trust people to behave properly? I don’t want to enable flame wars, abuse, bullying, harassment, political or religious discussions, commerce for personal benefit, solicitation, or anything else that is inappropriate for our work environment.
  2. Can I trust that people won’t waste their time in an ESN? I don’t want to encourage idle chatter, irrelevant conversations, or pointless sharing of personal photos, videos, music, or other social media content.
  3. Can I trust that the organization’s proprietary information will not be shared improperly? I don’t want to make it easy for people to leak confidential content, either intentionally or accidentally.

Despite these concerns, leaders should trust people to do no harm. It doesn’t mean that people won’t do harm. They may do it intentionally or unintentionally, but if they do it in such a way that you can see it, then you can counsel them and intervene.

If you don’t trust people, why did you hire them? People are working for your organization. You hired them. You entrust them with the work that they’re doing. You should trust them to use good sense also when it comes to sharing information.

Leaders, you should:

  1. Trust people, unless they give you reason not to do so.
  2. Earn the trust of others and respect the trust they give to you.
  3. Proclaim publicly: I will insist on trust, truth, and transparency in all dealings – earning and respecting the trust of others, communicating truthfully and openly, and demonstrating and expecting accountability.

5 Ways to Build Trust

  1. Facilitate conversations between people. Make time in meetings and calls for people to get to know one another.
  2. Encourage frequent storytelling by leaders and knowledge workers. Have them tell their personal stories to let others know who they are and allow others to relate.
  3. Schedule regular face-to-face meetings. You need to meet in person to establish trust between team members.
  4. Support communities of practice. People don’t want to share with anyone unless they have an existing, trusting relationship with them. But once outsiders join and contribute in a community, they become trusted, and the original concern is reduced or eliminated. And the expertise and dependability of other members becomes clear over time.
  5. Implement an ESN with open groups, and lead by example by being active in it. Connecting people, giving them a voice, and allowing them to express their individual personalities increases trust and enables better collaboration.
Stan Garfield

Stan Garfield

Please read Stan’s additional blog posts offering advice and insights drawn from many years as a KM practitioner. You may also want to download a copy of his book, Proven Practices for Implementing a Knowledge Management Program, from Lucidea Press.  And learn about Lucidea’s Inmagic Presto and SydneyEnterprise with KM capabilities to support successful knowledge management programs.

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