The quality of information sharing in organisations is widely seen as having a major impact on employee engagement, but what are the critical elements that influence people’s perception of it? A recent study by Schnackenberg and colleagues researched this and found some interesting additional links with trustworthiness. I summarise their findings here, adding some thoughts on their implications for managing international/intercultural teamwork.
The researchers’ focus was ‘the perceived quality of intentionally shared information from a sender’, which they labelled ‘transparency’. They found that it comprised three main elements, which I report with some additional explanatory information below:
This refers to the perception that relevant information is being shared with those who need it. This means that if information is to be disclosed, a manager or team member needs to assess others as being important or worthy enough to receive it. Failure to disclose relevant information can thus lead others to feel excluded and disrespected.
This refers to the ease with which others can understand the information conveyed. Use of jargon or unfamiliar acronyms can be very alienating to new members. Similarly, language that is complex, poorly organised, spoken too fast or with too many idioms, can make those who are less proficient or comfortable in the working language feel excluded. Different styles and preferences for levels of directness and indirectness can also have a major impact on levels of perceived clarity and (mis) communication. This does not mean, however, that clarity is the same as explicitness. It’s perfectly possible to be clear and indirect, although those used to directness may find that hard to grasp.
This refers to the perception that information is accurate and not distorted. This can be a particular risk when there is some kind of ‘failure’ and when there is an associated strong tendency to cover up a mistake or fault. People can often sense this and thus may doubt the truthfulness of what they are being told. This can undermine trust.
The researchers examined the link between these elements and three aspects of trustworthiness: ability, benevolence (care for the other’s welfare), and integrity, while controlling for variables such as age, sex, work experience and group size. They found that there were significant interconnections between their measures of transparency and measures of trustworthiness, with transparency significantly predicting levels of trust.
As with all research, there are limitations to the findings. The respondents were all US Americans, so we cannot be sure of the generalizability of their findings. Nevertheless, the links between transparency and trust make intuitive sense.
Schnackenberg and his colleagues did not focus on teams; in fact, their focus was on the sharing of information by management. However, their findings are extremely relevant to teamworking, as both information sharing and trust among members is crucial for team success. In fact, it is not just a matter of one-way sharing ‘from the top’, but everyone sharing, as well as building shared knowledge together. This means that all these elements need to be probed and monitored. Our Global Teamworking Profiler (GTP) enables you to do this, as well as providing insights into several other important aspects of teamworking. To learn more, visit our introduction to the Global Teamworking Profiler (GTP) and get in touch with us for more detailed information and for coaching support.
Professor Helen Spencer-Oatey, Director
 Schnackenberg, A. K., Tomlinson, E. C., & Coen, C. A. (2021). The dimensional structure of transparency: A construct validation of transparency as disclosure, clarity and accuracy in organizations. Human Relations, 74(10), 1628–1660.