An exchange-based theory of knowledge sharing: Knowledge inclusiveness, integrative understanding, and individual creativity

    Project: Research project

    Project Details


    Knowledge sharing between employees with diverse functional and professional backgrounds is crucial for work groups, especially R&D project teams, to generate useful and creative solutions (Nonaka, 1994). Recent research has suggested, however, that it is difficult for an employee to understand the expertise of a partner who has a dissimilar functional background (Huang, Hsieh, & He, 2014; Tortoriello, Reagans, & McEvily, 2012). To understand and make use of a functionally dissimilar partner’s expertise, an employee should engage in deep knowledge dialogues and intensive knowledge exchanges with the partner (Boland & Tenkasi, 1995; Majchrzak, More, & Faraj, 2012). Although knowledge sharing is fundamentally a process of reciprocal exchange between a focal employee and his/her interacting partner, past studies have conceptualized and operationalized knowledge sharing as an individual-level (e.g., Gong, Cheung, Wang, & Huang, 2012; Gong, Kim, Zhu, & Lee, 2013) or group-level process (Huang et al, 2014) rather than an exchange-based process at the dyadic level, thereby hindering a deeper understanding of how and when knowledge sharing may enhance interacting parties’ knowledge creation.

    We therefore propose an exchange-based theory of knowledge sharing, which postulates that an employee can achieve an optimal understanding of the expertise of a dissimilar partner only when both parties simultaneously and intensively engage in deep knowledge sharing. Through this process, the focal employee is able to integrate and utilize the dissimilar partner’s expertise and knowledge to generate novel and creative ideas. The focal employee’s ability to understand and integrate the expertise of the dissimilar partner, however, will be impeded if he/she does not reciprocate equally with the partner in the knowledge exchange, or vice versa. We also suggest that as individuals tend to disregard the expertise and contributions of interacting partners who have dissimilar functional or professional backgrounds (Tajfel & Turner, 1979), they are less likely to attend to and accept the ideas of functionally dissimilar partners during intensive knowledge exchange. Therefore, we propose that knowledge inclusiveness (the tendency to be open to the expertise and knowledge of others who have dissimilar functional backgrounds) of individual employees helps members of functionally heterogeneous teams break down their professional barriers to obtain optimal benefits from knowledge exchanges with dissimilar others. Using the social relational methodological approach (Lam, Van de Vegt, Walter, & Huang, 2011; Liu, Tangriala, Lam, Jia, Chen, Jia, & Huang, 2015; Tse, Lam, Lawrence, & Huang, 2013), we plan to progressively test the above propositions in three empirical studies.
    Effective start/end date1/01/1829/02/20


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