Monday, January 9, 2012

Through the Looking Glass: Reflected Knowledge and Trust in Global Collaboration
INSEAD Working Paper 2012/03/OB

Scholars argue that firsthand experience with distant colleagues is crucial for fostering trust in global collaboration. However, their arguments focus mainly on how trust accrues from direct knowledge about distant collaborators’ personal characteristics, relationships, and behavioral norms. We suggest that an equally important trust mechanism is “reflected knowledge,” knowledge workers gain about the personal characteristics, relationships, and behavioral norms of their own site by interacting with their collaborators. Through surveys of 140 employees in a division of a global chemical company, we found that direct knowledge and reflected knowledge enhanced trust. While both enhanced feelings of closeness with others, results indicate that direct knowledge increased focal actors’ understanding of their distant colleagues, while reflected knowledge promoted feelings of being understood. We discuss implications of reflected knowledge to theories of trust and interpersonal dynamics in globally distributed collaboration.