Will KM be hit by a "Trust recession"?
It is generally acknowledged that KM requires a culture of trust. But is remote working eroding trust, and what might this do to KM?
|Trust by Vic on Flickr
There are many studies of the links between Knowledge Management and trust (see here, here, and here for example). Without a culture of trust within an organisation, it is generally acknowledged that KM will struggle.
“The longer employees were apart from one another during the pandemic, a recent study of more than 5,400 Finnish workers found, the more their faith in colleagues fell… In March 2020, trust levels were fairly high. By May, they had slipped. By October—about seven months into the pandemic—the employees’ degree of confidence in one another was down substantially. Another survey, by the Centre for Transformative Work Design in Australia, found bosses having trust issues too…. Each of these data points could, of course, have multiple causes. But together they point in a worrisome direction: We may be in the midst of a trust recession”.
“What has suffered most are “weak ties”—relationships with acquaintances who fall somewhere between stranger and friend, which sociologists find are particularly valuable for the dissemination of knowledge. A closed inner circle tends to recycle knowledge it already has. New information is more likely to come from the serendipitous encounter with Alan, the guy with the fern in his office who reports to Phoebe and who remembers the last time someone suggested splitting the marketing division into three teams, and how that went”.
We already saw the loss of weak ties in the Microsoft study quoted here,(which called them “bridging ties”) and which included the following paragraph (my emphasis in bold).
Our results suggest that shifting to firm-wide remote work caused the collaboration network to become more heavily siloed—with fewer ties that cut across formal business units or bridge structural holes in Microsoft’s informal collaboration network—and that those silos became more densely connected. Furthermore, the network became more static, with fewer ties added and deleted per month. Previous research suggests that these changes in collaboration patterns may impede the transfer of knowledge and reduce the quality of workers’ output.
So there may well be an issue here. Remote working may lead to a general erosion in trust within an organisation, which is linked with an erosion in weak ties, and links with a workers “outer circle”.
The inner circle – the immediate work team – may stay connected, but the silos become strengthened, and the knowledge gets recycled locally and becomes stale. Knowledge management suffers, innovation suffers, and the organisation gets stuck in knowledge ruts.
What can we do about this?
- “I trust that if I expose my ignorance and ask for knowledge, I will get a positive outcome (finding a helpful answer) rather than a negative one (being ridiculed)”.
- “I trust that I can talk about failure without being punished”
- “I trust that if I risk expressing my knowledge, it will be valued and not ignored or stolen or seen as “showing off””
- “I trust that if I risk share my knowledge with other teams, this will not be seen as a security breach or as being disloyal to my team or my manager”
- “I trust that spending time on KM will be valued by my management and not seen in a negative light (eg as a waste of time)”
- “I trust that if I search for documented knowledge, I will find it, and it will be up to date and useful to me”
- “I trust that if I find good knowledge, I will be allowed to use it, and I wont be second-guessed by my manager”
So beware the Trust recession as you move to remote or hybrid working, recognise the effect this may have on KM, and tune your KM framework accordingly.
Tags: Archive, hybrid