Essays on interpersonal level knowledge sharing within the multinational corporation

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School of Business | Doctoral thesis (article-based) | Defence date: 2006-09-01
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Kansainvälinen liiketoiminta
International Business
Degree programme
225, [2] s.
Acta Universitatis oeconomicae Helsingiensis. A, 277
Knowledge sharing on the interpersonal level is increasingly being recognized as a fundamentally important aspect of intra-company knowledge flows within the multinational corporation (MNC). Interpersonal interaction between managers during the course of ongoing organizational routines - such as meetings, e-mails, telephone calls, projects, and informal encounters - is the primary mechanism through which the daily work of the MNC is conducted. However, despite its fundamental nature, knowledge sharing on the interpersonal level has received relatively little attention in the literature concerning MNC knowledge flows, with the current focus being on organizational level knowledge transfer, such as transfer of best practices. The present thesis addresses this research gap. The purpose of the study is to examine knowledge sharing in the interpersonal relationships of MNC managers, with a particular focus on knowledge sharing across borders. The specific research question it addresses is, “How is knowledge being shared in the interpersonal cross-border relationships of MNC managers?”. The main research question is further divided into two more specific sub-questions relating to how (i) the relationship characteristics and (ii) the interaction context influence interpersonal cross-border knowledge sharing. The introductory part of the thesis builds a theoretical framework explaining knowledge sharing in interpersonal cross-border relationships, which is then examined through the four essays using both quantitative (structural equation modeling on 518 cross-border relationships), and qualitative (embedded, in-depth case-study of 22 MNC managers) research methods. The framework examines three layers of social, interaction related factors influencing interpersonal cross-border knowledge sharing. In the layer of the relationship, the characteristics of the relationship are important determinants of knowledge sharing. In the layer of the immediate interaction context, the issue of boundary crossing is particularly relevant, and in the layer of the overall MNC context, internal connectivity becomes a key issue. The use of theoretical and methodological triangulation in the four essays enabled several new insights to emerge. First, Essay 1 established that interaction frequency, perceived interpersonal trust and shared cognitive ground are important determinants of interpersonal cross-border knowledge sharing. Secondly, Essay 2 added that expatriate relationships provide strong cross-border ties that make them particularly effective for cross-border knowledge sharing. Thirdly, Essay 3 found that when managers interact across borders, they have to overcome several cognitive boundaries in order to shared personal knowing effectively, and identified six means of overcoming such boundaries. Fourthly, Essay 4 argued that informal connecting points may provide one explanation why knowledge is not being shared evenly in multinational organizations. It further explained, that one such connecting point, interpersonal homophily, can create an informal clustering effect in which knowledge is shared more effectively within clusters than between them. Finally, the thesis also discussed the micro- and macro-level consequences of interpersonal cross-border knowledge sharing. On the micro level, interpersonal cross-border relationships provide access-related benefits, facilitating the creation of new knowledge by providing linkages between different bodies of knowledge and frames of knowing on the operational level where the daily problem-solving of the MNC occurs. On the macro level, interpersonal cross-border relationships provide shortcuts between the differentiated units of the MNC, thus creating a ‘small-world effect’ within the multinational organization. In sum, this thesis offers one of the first large-scale contributions in the international business field focusing on interpersonal level knowledge exchange within the MNC. It argues that interpersonal cross-border interaction affects the internal flow of knowledge in fundamental ways on both micro and macro levels. Furthermore, several factors that influence how knowledge is being shared within interpersonal cross-border relationships are identified.
Supervising professor
Piekkari, Rebecca, professor
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