The Influence of Project Commitment and Team Commitment on the Relationship between Trust and Knowledge Sharing in Project Teams

Marte Pettersen Buvik, Department of Industrial Economics and Technology Management, NTNU, Trondheim, Norway

Sturle Danielsen Tvedt, Stord-Haugesund University College, Haugesund, Stord, Norway

The purpose of the study is to enhance our understanding of the relationship among trust, commitment, and knowledge sharing in project teams. We examine how trust directly and indirectly affects knowledge sharing. We include two different foci of commitment that are highly relevant to project teams: team commitment and project commitment. A mediation analysis is conducted on data from 179 project team members in 31 Norwegian construction project teams. Our results suggest different effects of the two foci of commitment, indicating that, in a project team context, project commitment is more important for knowledge sharing than team commitment.

KEYWORDS: trust; knowledge sharing; commitment; project teams; construction industry

Project Management Journal, Vol. 48, No. 2, 5–21
© 2017 by the Project Management Institute
Published online at www.pmi.org/PMJ

INTRODUCTION img

Knowledge is considered a key organizational resource (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995), and the effective sharing of knowledge is critical to an organization's success (Argote, Ingram, Levine, & Moreland, 2000; Mueller, 2014). Knowledge sharing is especially important in a project setting where people work together and interact closely to perform temporary tasks (Nesheim & Hunskaar, 2015). Knowledge sharing occurs regarding expert knowledge, relevant experiences, and information among project team members, which can lead to enhanced project performance (Liu, Keller, & Shih, 2011). How people feel about one another can be a critical determinant of knowledge sharing because the sharing of knowledge is a social phenomenon that involves interpersonal relationships and social interactions (Chowdhury, 2005). Two of the most prominent relational factors that influence individuals’ behaviors in organizations are trust and commitment (Morgan & Hunt, 1994). Indeed, trust has been recognized as a key factor affecting knowledge sharing in teams (Andrews & Delahaye, 2000; Holste & Fields, 2010; McEvily, Perrone, & Zaheer, 2003), and several studies have found a positive relationship between commitment and knowledge sharing (Hislop, 2003; Swart, Kinnie, van Rossenberg, & Yalabik, 2014; Van den Hooff & De Leeuw van Weenen, 2004).

Trust is often viewed as a critical factor in the development of effective teamwork (Webber, 2008) and is recognized as a key factor contributing to project success (Wong, Cheung, Yiu, & Pang, 2008). However, there is limited research on the impact of different trust dimensions on knowledge sharing in a project environment (Ding, Ng, & Cai, 2007; Maurer, 2010). Therefore, the objective of this study is to examine how trust may promote knowledge sharing in a project team setting. Project teams typically perform defined, specialized tasks within a definite time period; are cross-functional; and disband after the project ends (Sundstrom, McIntyre, Halfhill, & Richards, 2000). Chiocchio (2015) highlights the fact that project teams have varied knowledge, expertise, and experience and that these teams must acquire and pool vast amounts of information across boundaries. It is of pivotal importance for project team members to share their diverse knowledge in order to establish mutual understanding and effective collaboration (Zhang & Ng, 2012), and thus, to promote project performance (Robinson, Carrillo, Anumba, & Al-Ghassani, 2005). The relationship between trust and knowledge sharing has drawn researchers’ attention in recent years (Koskinen, Pihlanto, & Vanharanta, 2003), but little research has addressed potential mediators between trust and knowledge sharing (Ding, Ng, & Li, 2014). Some mixed findings on the relationship between trust and knowledge sharing exist (e.g., Bakker, Leenders, Gabbay, Kratzer, & van Engelen, 2006; Ozlati, 2015), and more research is needed to identify and investigate the potential mechanisms through which trust may influence knowledge sharing (Chowdhury, 2005; Mayer & Gavin, 2005; Renzl, 2008; Wang & Noe, 2010). Commitment has been associated with successful project outcomes (Chan, Ho, & Tam, 2001; Leung, Chong, Ng, & Cheung, 2004) and may be related to the effects of trust on knowledge sharing. Prior studies suggest that trust is a major determinant of commitment to a relationship (Costa & Anderson, 2011; Ferres, Connell, & Travaglione, 2004), and we predict that commitment may play an important role in influencing the relationship between trust and knowledge sharing in project teams. Few studies on commitment have been conducted on project teams, and our knowledge of how different foci of commitments influence knowledge sharing is limited (Tremblay, Lee, Chiocchio, & Meyer, 2015). In this study, we explore two different foci of commitment that are highly relevant to project teams: team commitment and project commitment. Whereas team commitment pertains to the project team as a social entity, project commitment relates to the task at hand.

The overall aim of the study is to enhance our understanding of the relationship among trust, commitment, and knowledge sharing within a project team context. More specifically, our study provides a detailed examination of how trust directly and indirectly, through different foci of commitment, affects knowledge sharing. The concept of trust is complex and multidimensional (Costa & Anderson, 2011); nevertheless, trust is often considered a one-dimensional concept in research on its relationship to knowledge sharing (Bakker et al., 2006). Similarly, knowledge sharing is a multifaceted construct and can, in a project team context, be conceptualized in terms of team members’ actual knowledge sharing behaviors, as well as the shared perceptions and norms of knowledge sharing, which constitute the knowledge sharing climate within the team. We conceptualize trust as a multidimensional concept, including propensity to trust and trustworthiness, and we investigate its direct or mediated relationship to both knowledge sharing behavior and knowledge sharing climate. We examine these questions with data from 31 project teams in the Norwegian construction industry. The construction industry is a key example of a project-based sector in which the complexity and temporal nature of work may create challenges for managing project knowledge (Zhang & Ng, 2012).

Theoretical Foundations

Knowledge Sharing in Project Teams

Knowledge can be defined in diverse ways; we follow Bartol and Srivastava (2002) when they consider knowledge in organizations to include information, ideas, and expertise relevant for tasks performed by individuals, teams, work units, and the organization as a whole. Knowledge is typically classified into two categories: explicit and tacit (Nonaka, 1994; Polanyi, 1966). Although explicit knowledge is regarded as knowledge that can be articulated and systematically stored, tacit knowledge reflects an individual's know-how and experiences, which are more difficult to imitate, acquire, and share. We define knowledge sharing as the exchange of explicit and tacit knowledge relevant to the task (Lee, Gillespie, Mann, & Wearing, 2010); it involves communication, interaction, and the implicit coordination of expertise about who knows what within the group (Cohen & Bailey, 1997; Faraj & Sproull, 2000). The sharing of tacit knowledge may be crucial for task completion and group performance (Yang & Farn, 2009). We conceptualize knowledge sharing as a team-level behavior, and we therefore assume that the nature of social relations within the team will affect knowledge sharing.

Though knowledge sharing can be operationalized in several ways, we focus on two related dimensions that are considered essential within a project team setting: knowledge sharing behavior and knowledge sharing climate. In this study, knowledge sharing behavior refers to the specific action of transferring or disseminating knowledge that is particularly relevant in a (construction) project team context, whereas knowledge sharing climate denotes the shared perceptions, expectations, and norms of behavior regarding the sharing of knowledge that exist within the project team (Anderson & West, 1998).

The ability to share knowledge between units has been shown to contribute significantly to the performance of organizations (Argote et al., 2000). Knowledge sharing is also positively associated with team performance (Choi, Lee, & Yoo, 2010; Lee et al., 2010; Van der Vegt & Bunderson, 2005; Wang & Noe, 2010) and project performance (Liu et al., 2011). Knowledge sharing is of particular importance in project-based work. The construction sector is a prime example of a project-based industry, and is one of the multidisciplinary domains in which collaboration and relationships among related parties are of utmost importance (Pektasx & Pultar, 2006). In construction projects, team members possess valuable knowledge that can be shared and applied throughout the construction process (Zhang & Ng, 2012). Construction teams must utilize diverse knowledge and create new knowledge in order to meet strict requirements and constraints, and to fulfill changing needs (Fong, 2003). These teams are typically cross-functional, composed of team members from various functional units who possess specialized knowledge and skills relevant to the completion of projects (Ghobadi & D'Ambra, 2012; Holland, Gaston, & Gomes, 2000). This variety makes the team capable of conducting multiple activities simultaneously and is thus advantageous for accomplishing complex non-routine tasks (Hambrick, Cho, & Chen, 1996). However, to benefit from this variety, project teams must integrate their capabilities; thus, knowledge sharing is a key mechanism by which variety may promote project performance. Without the effective sharing of knowledge, a project may suffer from coordination problems, leading to unsuccessful collaborations (Herbsleb & Moitra, 2001). Further, accumulated knowledge throughout a project can be irretrievably lost if it is not shared among project team members and other project stakeholders. However, knowledge sharing within project teams can be a complex task and a challenging process (Sethi, Smith, & Park, 2001). These teams sometimes consist of members who are working together for the first time, and for a limited period of time. They may also lack a shared social context as a result of differences in professional and functional affiliations. These factors may inhibit the knowledge sharing process. Further, team members might be reluctant to share their knowledge (Ipe, 2003) because knowledge is their primary source of value and sharing may potentially weaken this value (Alvesson, 1993). This might cause team members to guard their knowledge and reduce their willingness to engage in knowledge sharing.

Trust and Knowledge Sharing

Knowledge sharing in a team context is likely to be influenced by team members’ beliefs and feelings about one another, particularly their trust in one another (Lee et al., 2010). According to Whitener, Brodt, Korsgaard, and Werner (1998), teams require more trust because of their interdependent tasks. In a project setting, interdependence is high, and team members must rely on one another for task performance, thus making trust particularly important.

Most scholars recognize that trust is a complex and multidimensional construct (Costa & Anderson, 2011; Kramer, 1999; Mayer, Davis, & Schoorman, 1995; Rousseau, Sitkin, Burt, & Camerer, 1998). Many definitions exist, but scholars seem to agree that trust includes “positive” or “confident” expectations about another party, and a “willingness to accept vulnerability” in the relationship, under conditions of interdependence and risk (e.g., Bigley & Pearce, 1998; Kramer, 1999; Lewicki, Tomlinson, & Gillespie, 2006; Mayer et al., 1995; Rousseau et al., 1998). Propensity to trust and trustworthiness have been the two most common measured components of trust and constitute formative indicators of the higher-order construct (trust) (Costa & Anderson, 2011). Costa and Anderson (2011) contended that in a team setting, trust can be conceptualized as a latent construct based on an individual's own propensity to trust others and on the perceived trustworthiness of the other team members, which then leads to behaviors of cooperation and monitoring among team members. In line with Bakker et al. (2006), we retain only the formative indicators of trust in order to examine how trust relates to (knowledge sharing) action. The propensity to trust is referred to as a general willingness to trust others (Rotter, 1980); in teams, this propensity is likely to influence, and be influenced by, other team members (Costa & Anderson, 2011). Trustworthiness, which is defined as the extent to which individuals expect others to uphold and behave according to their claims, has both cognitive and emotional grounds (McAllister, 1995), and develops from perceptions and information regarding competence, benevolence, and integrity (Mayer et al., 1995).

A vast amount of research has suggested that trust facilitates knowledge sharing (e.g., Andrews & Delahaye, 2000; Connelly & Kelloway, 2003; Holste & Fields, 2010; Inkpen & Tsang, 2005; Levin & Cross, 2004; McEvily et al., 2003; Zand, 1972). According to Dirks and Ferrin (2001), trust encourages knowledge sharing by increasing the disclosure of knowledge to others and by granting others access to one's own knowledge. In this way, trust affects knowledge sharing from the perspectives of both the knowledge sender and receiver (McEvily et al., 2003). Knowledge that comes from a trusted teammate is perceived as reliable, and people are more inclined to accept such knowledge at face value. Trust may also enhance knowledge sharing because it reduces our inclination to monitor others and to safeguard ourselves. People are better able to both acquire and share knowledge if they do not anticipate harmful consequences of doing so. Conversely, if team members do not perceive one another as capable and trustworthy, they are less likely to accept one another's knowledge. Moreover, distrust is associated with knowledge-hiding behaviors (Connelly, Zweig, Webster, & Trougakos, 2012).

Social exchange theory (Blau, 1964) is commonly used to explain how trust relates to knowledge sharing. Social exchange refers to voluntary actions that are motivated by expected returns and actual returns. Knowledge sharing is largely a voluntary behavior with uncertain rewards (Davenport & Prusak, 1998). Because trust is one of the underlying percepts of an effective social exchange, it may also affect knowledge sharing behaviors (Staples & Webster, 2008). When team members trust one another, they will be more sensitive to their colleagues’ needs and more willing to help them; hence, social exchange will be more likely to take place. As a result, team members will be more likely to engage in the sharing of knowledge without hoarding (Wu, Hsu, & Yeh, 2007).

Commitment and Knowledge Sharing

Commitment has been recognized as an important variable in explaining knowledge sharing (Van den Hooff & De Leeuw van Weenen, 2004). A majority of the literature on commitment examines commitment to an organization, and the typology that has received the most research attention is the three-component model of organizational commitment proposed by Allen and Meyer (1990). They identified three different forms of commitment: affective (emotional attachment, a desire to remain), normative (the felt obligation to remain), and continuance (the need to remain because of loss of investments or lack of alternatives). When commitment to the organization is affective in nature, members experience strong emotional attachments to, and personal identification with, the goals and values of the organization (Allen & Meyer, 1990). This type of commitment is further linked to individuals’ willingness to commit extra effort to their work, and can therefore be expected to be related to knowledge sharing. Indeed, studies have found affective organizational commitment to be positively associated with knowledge sharing (Hislop, 2003; Jarvenpaa & Staples, 2001; Lin, 2007; Van den Hooff & De Leeuw van Weenen, 2004). Van den Hooff and De Leeuw van Weenen (2004), for example, found that employees with greater organizational commitment were more willing to donate and receive knowledge.

Research has shown that employees identify more closely, and feel more committed, to their work group than to the organization as a whole (Riketta & van Dick, 2005); however, there is a lack of studies on commitment to teams in general (Neininger, Lehmann-Willenbrock, Kauffeld, & Henschel, 2010). Nevertheless, some such studies exist, and these have found that commitment to the team may lead to greater knowledge sharing (Chang, Yen, Chiang, & Parolia, 2013; Swart et al., 2014). Team commitment can be understood as the relative strength of team members’ involvement and identification with the team (Bishop & Scott, 2000). When team commitment is high, team members value the relationship, and they are willing to exert effort to maintain it and make it work. The interests and goals of the team become important, giving team members a sense of responsibility to help one another (Chang et al., 2013). This feeling of obligation may make them more willing to provide relevant and useful knowledge to the team.

In a project setting, people may have multiple foci of commitments: team commitment, project commitment, professional commitment, organizational commitment, and so on. Few studies on commitment have been conducted on project teams, and our knowledge of how different foci of commitments influence knowledge sharing is limited (Tremblay et al., 2015). In this study, we focus on two different foci of commitment: project team commitment (team commitment) and project commitment. Whereas team commitment pertains to the project team as a social entity, project commitment relates to the task at hand. Moreover, project commitment can be characterized by the acceptance of and strong belief in the goals and values of the project, the willingness to engage in the project, and the desire to maintain membership in the project (Hoegl, Weinkauf, & Gemuenden, 2004).

Commitment is likely to influence team members’ efforts, and has been associated with enhanced team performance (Hackman, 1990; Hoegl et al., 2004; McDonough, 2000). In a project context, a recent study by Ehrhardt, Miller, Freeman, and Hom (2013) demonstrated that project commitment significantly predicts team performance in cross-functional product development teams. By identifying with the team and the project, team members can be expected to see themselves as responsible not only for their own performance, but for the overall outcomes of the project. Conversely, if team members are not committed to the project, they will most likely not exert the level of effort necessary for project success. Within the context of construction projects, studies have shown that the commitment of team members is critical to the timely completion of projects (Iyer & Jha, 2006), and a successful outcome (Chan, Ho, & Tam, 2001; Leung et al., 2004). For a project to succeed, team members from different disciplines and organizational departments must work collaboratively, set aside competing interests, and commit to the goals of the project (Ehrhardt et al., 2013; Sethi & Nicholson, 2001). To be able to interact and share knowledge effectively in such a setting, team members must be motivated to do so. We will argue that this motivational element can be found in team members’ commitment. When team members are committed to the team and/or the project, their feeling of affiliation is broadened and they will feel responsible for the outcomes of the project. The sharing of knowledge assumes that team members are willing to contribute to a common goal, and we therefore expect both foci of commitment to be positively related to knowledge sharing in project teams.

Trust, Commitment, and Knowledge Sharing

As we have seen, both trust and commitment are recognized as key antecedents of knowledge sharing. However, how these two concepts relate to knowledge sharing is less clear from earlier research. Though many studies report a positive effect of trust on knowledge sharing, some mixed evidence also exists (Bakker et al., 2006; Ozlati, 2015). Chow and Chan (2008), for example, found that social trust did not play a direct role in sharing knowledge. Further, Bakker et al. (2006) found that team membership and team-level characteristics, such as team size and team tenure, are more important than trust in explaining knowledge sharing. In their study of new product development teams, they did not find trust to be a main driver of knowledge sharing, and they posit that the absence of trust has a greater effect on knowledge sharing than its presence. In their view, trust is merely a condition for knowledge sharing, not a motivator. This leads to the question of whether the relationship between trust and knowledge sharing is direct or mediated.

Trust is a major determinant of commitment to a relationship (Costa & Anderson, 2011; Costa, Roe, & Taillieu, 2001; Ferres et al., 2004; Morgan & Hunt, 1994). When trust within the team is high, and team members perceive one another as competent, honest, and benevolent, team members should be motivated to form an attachment to the team and identify with the team's goals and values, thus enhancing team commitment. Regarding project commitment, team members’ confidence in their teammates may increase the willingness of team members to commit themselves to making a project successful (McDonough, 2000). By contrast, if team members lack confidence in their teammates and feel that their fellow team members are not competent enough to complete the required tasks, they may not be willing to exert the effort and energy necessary for project success. Thus, we assume that team trust will be positively related to project commitment. This corresponds to previous research on goal commitment suggesting that individuals will be more likely to commit to a task when they believe a positive outcome is attainable (Klein, Wesson, Hollenbeck, & Alge, 1999). When team members trust one another and work within a climate of cooperation, they may also perceive the likelihood of project success to be greater. As a result, team members would be expected to develop stronger project commitment and ultimately take on greater attachment to the superordinate goals of the project team.

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Figure 1: Hypotheses.

As noted above, commitment has been positively associated with knowledge sharing (Hislop, 2003; Swart et al., 2014; Van den Hooff & De Leeuw van Weenen, 2004), and we therefore predict that commitment to the team and to the project plays an important role in influencing the relationship between trust and knowledge sharing in project teams. More specifically, we predict that the relationship among trust (as measured by the two formative dimensions of propensity and trustworthiness), knowledge sharing behavior, and knowledge sharing climate will be positively mediated by team commitment and project commitment. Specifically, we hypothesize the following in the context of project teams (see Figure 1 for illustrations):

H1a: The relationship between the propensity to trust and trustworthiness and knowledge sharing climate will be positively mediated by project commitment.

H1b: The relationship between the propensity to trust and trustworthiness and knowledge sharing behavior will be positively mediated by project commitment.

H2a: The relationship between the propensity to trust and trustworthiness and knowledge sharing climate will be positively mediated by team commitment.

H2b: The relationship between the propensity to trust and trustworthiness and knowledge sharing behavior will be positively mediated by team commitment.

Method

Procedure and Sample

The study was conducted in four large construction companies in Norway. The researchers contacted the companies and selected project teams to participate in the study. The project teams came from independent projects within the four construction companies, thus representing different projects. All project team members’ email addresses were provided to the researchers and the questionnaires were distributed and data collected electronically via an online survey platform. Project team members identified which projects they belonged to, so that grouping of respondents belonging to the same project team was possible. Prior to the dispatching of the questionnaire, the respondents received an email with an invitation to participate in the survey, including information about data protection and confidentiality, and about the study itself.

A total of 184 team members from 34 project teams participated in the study, providing an overall response rate of 77%. Three project teams were excluded from the sample because they consisted of two or fewer participants. The remaining teams (31) ranged from 3 to 10 members, with an average of 5.7 individuals per team. Of the 179 team members, 154 (86%) were male. Age was evenly distributed, with 95% of the sample being ages 20 to 60: 19.6% were 20 to 29, 27.4% were 30 to 39, 20.7% were 40 to 49, 26.8% were 50 to 59, and 5.6% were 60 or over. The project teams in this study are what Chiocchio (2015) refer to as core project teams, that is, teams responsible for the overall integration of the project and for the planning, controlling, and closing of the project. Being responsible for the project, core project teams consist of members who are highly knowledgeable and experienced, and who are moderately heterogeneous in terms of knowledge distribution. Most of the project teams (67%) were sampled during the execution phase of the project.

Measures

The measures were given on a seven-point scale, ranging from 1 (“completely disagree”) to 7 (“completely agree”). In order to insure the accuracy of the translation we used a back-translation approach (Brislin, 1970) where all measures first were translated into Norwegian and then translated back to English.

Trust was measured using trust scales, propensity to trust, and perceived trustworthiness, as developed and validated by Costa and Anderson (2011). Propensity to trust refers to a general willingness to trust others and is commonly viewed as a dispositional trait (Costa & Anderson, 2011). This was measured using a six-item scale (Cronbach's alpha = 0.864). One example of an item is: “In this team most people stand behind their convictions.” Perceived trustworthiness refers to the extent to which individuals expect others to be and behave according to their claims (Costa & Anderson, 2011), and was measured using a six-item scale (Cronbach's alpha = 0.860). An example of an item is: “In this team people can rely on one another.”

Team commitment was measured using five items from Allen and Meyer's (1990) affective commitment scale (Cronbach's alpha = 0.900), adapted to the team level per Van der Vegt and Bunderson (2005). Affective commitment concerns “identification with, involvement in, and emotional attachment to the organization (project team)” (Allen & Meyer, 1996, p. 253). An example of an item is: “I feel a strong sense of belonging to the project team.”

Project commitment was measured using a five-item scale (Cronbach's alpha = 0.933) developed by Hoegl et al. (2004). The items addressed how positively team members related to the overall project and its objectives. An example of an item is: “Our team feels fully responsible for achieving the common project goals.”

Knowledge sharing was measured with items derived from two existing measures. The first four items (Cronbach's alpha = 0.909) measured knowledge sharing behavior and were adopted from Zhang and Ng (2012) and adjusted to the team level. These items measured the team's knowledge sharing behavior with reference to Ma, Qi, and Wang's (2008) description of knowledge involved in construction project teams. An example of an item from this index is: “In this team we share project knowledge with one another.” The second measure of knowledge sharing focuses on more tacit types of knowledge, such as ideas and expertise, and is called knowledge sharing climate. It captures the team's perception of the shared norms and practices of knowledge sharing within the team. The measure consists of five items (Cronbach's alpha = 0.871), and is derived from Connelly and Kelloway's (2003) scale. An example of an item is: “People in this team share their ideas openly.”

Common Method Variance

Procedural remedies were undertaken to minimize common method variance (CMV), such as clearly separated sections with instructions provided to respondents, in order to maximize the salience of the referent in questions and emphasize confidentiality, reducing the potential bias in survey response as a result of social desirability, demand characteristics, and so forth. In addition, to check for the severity of CMV, Harman's single-factor test was performed for all variables included in the study. Because of sample size limitations, this test was performed utilizing exploratory factor analysis in IBM SPSS 23.0. For the analyses including propensity to trust, 21 items were subjected to principal axis factoring. The Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin was above the requested threshold at 0.632, and the Bartlett's test of sphericity reached statistical significance. A five-factor solution explained 81.1%, whereas a one-factor solution explained 45.9%. For the analyses including trustworthiness, 21 items were also subjected to principal axis factoring. The Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin was above the requested threshold at 0.612, and the Bartlett's test of sphericity reached statistical significance. A five-factor solution explained 82.8%, whereas a one-factor solution explained 49.6%. These results indicate that common method variance is within acceptable limits (Podsakoff, MacKenzie, & Podsakoff, 2012).

Aggregation

The unit of analysis is the team level and, thus, interrater agreement is necessary to justify aggregation to the team level. The variables propensity to trust, perceived trustworthiness, project commitment, knowledge sharing behavior, and knowledge sharing climate all assumed a referent-shift consensus model (Chan, 1998), meaning that the item referent is directed toward the team as a whole. The definitions of these constructs are collective in nature even though they are being assessed at the individual level. Rather than asking team members about their own individual perceptions, referent-shift incorporates the group as a whole. In contrast, the team commitment variable assumed a direct consensus model (Chan, 1998) with the item referent directed toward the individual. This is because this construct resides in individuals’ owns perceptions and feelings and individual team members form their own perceptions of how committed they are to the team. Both forms of models assume that group members share a common perception and that a certain level of agreement within the team is necessary to justify aggregation to the team level. Within-unit agreement was assessed for all measures prior to aggregation by the within-group agreement index (James, Demaree, & Wolf, 1984). When multiple judges rate a single target on a single variable using an interval scale of measurement, within-group agreement may be assessed using the rwg index, which defines agreement in terms of the proportional reduction in error variance. This index can further be extended to the multi-item rwg(j) index (LeBreton & Senter, 2008). A common rule of thumb suggests that values should be equal to or greater than 0.70 to justify aggregation (Lance, Butts, & Michels, 2006; LeBreton, Burgess, Kaiser, Atchley, & James, 2003). All measures had acceptable mean values greater than 0.70: propensity to trust (rwg(j) = 0.93), perceived trustworthiness (rwg(j) = 0.90), team commitment (rwg(j) = 0.84), project commitment (rwg(j) = 0.94), knowledge sharing behavior (rwg(j) = 0.89), and knowledge sharing climate (rwg(j) = 0.91).

Data Analysis

All descriptive statistics were computed with IBM SPSS 23.0. The hypotheses were tested with the process macros developed by Hayes (2013) through IBM SPSS 23.0. The macros are based on standard ordinary least squares (OLS) regression (see Figure 2 for a conceptual model). As demonstrated by Preacher and Hayes (2004), this macro produces a test that is more rigorous than that of Baron and Kenny (1986) and at the same time avoids the bias of the Sobel (1982) approach. Preacher and Hayes (2004) achieved this by employing a bootstrapping procedure. Bootstrapping works by basing inferential procedures on concrete sampling distribution from the sample at hand, rather than traditional sampling distribution created by a hypothetical infinite number of samples from the population of interest (Efron, 1982). The concrete sampling distribution thus reflects the distribution of the sample, rendering the assumption of normality superfluous, and allows the testing of mediators on small samples (N > 25) (Preacher & Hayes, 2008). A bootstrap sample of 10,000 was drawn (with replacement) and used for analysis of the mediation model.

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Figure 2: Conceptual model for the mediation models as reported in Tables 2 and 3. The predicted variables and their corresponding coefficients are performed in separate regressions, indicated in the model with different line styles. Constant coefficients, denoted iMk and iYk in the tables are not represented in the figure.

Results

Descriptive Results

Descriptive results and the correlational matrix of the aggregated sample for all variables included in the mediation tests are listed in Table 1. As is evident from the correlation matrix, most variables are moderately to strongly correlated on a 0.001 significance level, except team commitment, which only correlated to project commitment and knowledge sharing climate.

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Table 1. Correlational matrix for all study variables with mean and standard deviation.

Tests of Hypotheses

The results pertaining to the hypotheses testing are presented in Tables 2 and 3. All the hypotheses entail mediations, and the conceptual model for the regressions involved are given in Figures 3 and 4, along with annotations for the variables and coefficients used in Tables 2 and 3.

H1a posited that the relationship between the propensity to trust and trustworthiness and knowledge sharing climate will be positively mediated by project commitment. The indirect effect statistic of Table 2 fully supported H1a; however, because the direct effect of perceived trustworthiness (c’1) remains significant after controlling for the indirect effects, the mediation is only partial for this variable.

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Figure 3: Conceptual model for the mediation models as reported in Table 2. The predicted variables and their corresponding coefficients are performed in separate regressions, indicated in the model with different line styles. Constant coefficients, denoted iMk and iYk in the table are not represented in the figure as they only have technical statistical interest.

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Table 2. Regression results for the propensity to trust mediation model. Unstandardized OLS regression. Coefficients with confidence intervals (standard errors in parentheses) estimating project commitment, team commitment, knowledge sharing climate, and knowledge sharing behavior.

H1b posited the same mediational relationship regarding knowledge sharing behavior as an outcome variable. The indirect effect statistics supported H1b; hence, the mediations here are full. The results for H1a/b are supported by the significance of the regression model for M1 and Y1 and Y2 in both tables, as well as the significance of coefficients a1, and b1.1 and b1.2 in both tables. Coefficient a1 in model M1 supports the path from propensity to trust to project commitment, and coefficients b1.1 in model Y1 and b1.2 in model Y2 support the path from project commitment to knowledge sharing climate and behavior, respectively, controlled for the direct paths c'1 and c‘2 from propensity to trust to knowledge sharing (climate and behavior).

H2a correspondingly postulated that the relationship between propensity to trust and perceived trustworthiness and knowledge sharing climate will be positively mediated by team commitment. H2a was not supported, as indicated by the indirect effect statistic of Table 3. H2b, which posited the same mediational relationship regarding knowledge sharing behavior as an outcome variable, was also not supported, as indicated by the indirect effect statistic of Table 3. The lack of support for H2a/b can be seen by the absence of a statistically significant regression model for M2 and coefficients a2, b2.1, and b2.2 in both tables. Coefficient a2 in model M2 does not support the path from propensity to trust to team commitment, and coefficients b2.1 in model Y1 and b2.2 in model Y2 also do not support the path from team commitment to knowledge sharing climate and behavior, respectively, controlled for the direct paths c‘1 and c‘2 from propensity to trust to knowledge sharing (climate and behavior).

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Figure 4: Conceptual model for the mediation models as reported in Table 3. The predicted variables and their corresponding coefficients are performed in separate regressions, indicated in the model with different line styles. Constant coefficients, denoted iMk and iYk in the table are not represented in the figure as they have only technical statistical interest.

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Table 3. Regression results for the trustworthiness mediation model. Unstandardized OLS regression coefficients with confidence intervals (standard errors in parentheses) estimating project commitment, team commitment, knowledge sharing climate, and knowledge sharing behavior.

Discussion

This study was undertaken to enhance our understanding of the relationship among trust, commitment, and knowledge sharing within a project team context. Specifically, our research aimed to investigate whether the relationship between trust and knowledge sharing is direct or mediated by team and project commitment.

Our prediction that the relationships between propensity to trust and perceived trustworthiness, and knowledge sharing behavior and knowledge sharing climate are positively mediated by project commitment was supported. As expected, project commitment, which is a belief in the goals at hand and willingness to engage in the project, fully mediated propensity and perceived trustworthiness on knowledge sharing behavior, as well as propensity on knowledge sharing behavior, whereas perceived trustworthiness on knowledge sharing climate was only partially mediated. This suggests that perceived trustworthiness has a direct effect on knowledge sharing climate, as well as an indirect effect through project commitment; however, the direct effect is rather small compared to the mediated effect. Contrary to our expectations, the results did not confirm the mediation of team commitment on the same relationships.

The findings suggest that the impact of trust on knowledge sharing is more complex than previous literature indicates, and can explain why some equivocal results on the relationship between trust and knowledge sharing exist (Ozlati, 2015). Moreover, our findings suggest that the different dimensions of trust affect knowledge sharing somewhat differently. Trust propensity only influences knowledge sharing (both knowledge sharing behavior and knowledge sharing climate) through project commitment, whereas perceived trustworthiness has a small direct impact on knowledge sharing climate. These findings suggest that when team members consider their team colleagues trustworthy—that is, believe them to be competent, honest, and reliable—they also view the knowledge sharing climate more positively. As we have seen, knowledge sharing climate pertains to the perceptions, expectations, and norms regarding the sharing of knowledge within the team, and includes tacit types of knowledge such as ideas and expertise. As noted above, trust may be of particular importance for the sharing of tacit knowledge, as it reduces the perceived uncertainty and risk associated with the sharing of this kind of knowledge (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995). Our findings are, thus, in line with previous studies that have found trust to be a significant predictor of the sharing of tacit knowledge (Foos, Schum, & Rothenburg, 2006; Holste & Fields, 2010).

Bearing in mind that the direct effect of trustworthiness on knowledge sharing climate is small, our findings give us reasons to believe that the effects of the formative indicators of trust on knowledge sharing are mostly indirect, and are conveyed through project commitment. This supports previous studies that have shown the same indirect effect of trust on performance through project commitment (Buvik & Tvedt, 2016). Although causality cannot be determined, our findings indicate a positive association between trust and commitment, suggesting that the higher the level of trust there is within the team, the more committed team members are to the project. This engagement, again, is associated with higher levels of knowledge sharing.

This study contributes to the literature in two important ways. The primary contribution is its demonstration of the mediating role of project commitment between team trust and team knowledge sharing. As we have seen, the literature has linked trust to commitment (Costa & Anderson, 2011; Morgan & Hunt, 1994), and commitment has further been found to facilitate knowledge sharing in teams (Chang et al., 2013; Swart et al., 2014). The findings correspond with Morgan and Hunt's (1994) Commitment-trust theory, claiming that when individuals trust others, they will be more committed to maintaining their relationship and be more likely to attach and involve themselves in activities such as sharing of knowledge. Our study indicates that confidence in their teammates seems to increase team members’ willingness to commit to the project and share their knowledge. This parallels with research on goal commitment, suggesting that people are more willing to commit to a task when they believe a positive outcome is achievable (Klein et al., 1999). Team members may perceive the chances of project success to be greater when they believe that their fellow team members are competent and trustworthy, and thus develop stronger commitment to the project, which again makes them more willing to share their knowledge and contribute to the overall project goal.

Our finding regarding the mediated relationship between trust and knowledge sharing corresponds to a recent study of knowledge sharing in design project teams by Ding et al. (2014). They tested the parallel mediation of team-based self-esteem and team identification between trust and knowledge sharing and found that the relation between affect-based trust and knowledge sharing is completely mediated by team-based self-esteem and team identification. Although Ding et al. (2014) did not study commitment per se, identification and commitment are considered closely related (Riketta & van Dick, 2005).

Supplementing the findings of Ding et al. (2014), our results add nuance to the traditional view that trust has a direct effect on knowledge sharing. Though many studies have suggested a direct relationship between trust and knowledge sharing (e.g., Holste & Fields, 2010), others have not found this relationship (Bakker et al., 2006; Chow & Chen, 2008). As our findings suggest, the effect of trust on knowledge sharing in a project team setting is mainly indirect, rather than direct. This aligns with Bakker et al.'s (2006) doubt about the importance of trust as a main driver and motivator of knowledge sharing. They argued that trust has the greatest effect on knowledge sharing when it is absent, and that it does not have a positive effect on knowledge sharing per se. Our findings support the notion that trust is a condition, but not necessarily a sufficient motivator, for knowledge sharing within a project setting. The strong indications of the mediating effects of project commitment show that team members need to be motivated by their belief in the project goals, as well as their willingness to engage in the project. High project commitment makes team members more motivated to exert the effort and energy needed for project success, including sharing knowledge with other team members.

The second important contribution of this study is the finding regarding the different effects of the two foci of commitment on the relationship between trust and knowledge sharing. By simultaneously studying team commitment and project commitment as mediators, we expand our understanding of how different foci of commitment relate to the relationship between trust and knowledge sharing. As noted above, our results showed no mediation of team commitment. This finding was contrary to our expectations; we predicted that both foci of commitment would have an effect on the relationship between trust and knowledge sharing. Findings from research on the related concept of cohesion in project teams may shed some light on our findings. Cohesion is typically divided into task and social cohesion (Chiocchio & Essiembre, 2009), with task cohesion corresponding to a group's shared commitment to the group task (Hackman, 1976) and social cohesion referring to the shared liking of and attraction to the group (Evans & Jarvis, 1980). Tremblay et al. (2015) proposed that social cohesion is commitment to people, and task cohesion is commitment to the task, resembling our concepts of team commitment and project commitment. Based on Chiocchio and Essiembre's (2009) meta-analysis on cohesion and performance, Tremblay et al. (2015) suggested that the social aspect of committing to the project team might be as or even more important to project performance than the task-specific focus of committing to the project. They argued that although team members who are more committed to the project may be more likely to be only task-oriented and focused on achieving the objectives of the project, team members who are more committed to the team would be more likely to engage in socially oriented behaviors that would benefit their team, such as organizational citizenship behaviors. Our results differ from Tremblay et al.'s (2015) proposal, and clearly show the primacy of project commitment over team commitment in relation to knowledge sharing. This is more in line with previous studies that have shown task cohesion to be more strongly linked to team performance than social cohesion (Carless & De Paola, 2000; Mullen & Copper, 1994). Scholars have suggested that task and social cohesion may play different roles depending on the outcome examined (Kozlowski & Bell, 2003), and Picazo, Gamero, Zornoza, and Peiro (2014) demonstrated that social cohesion plays a more important role in other types of effectiveness indicators, such as team members’ satisfaction. In a project team setting, task cohesion would be expected to emerge before social or interpersonal cohesion because project teams often focus on task concerns, whereas relational aspects are considered a secondary concern (Keyton, 2000). Chioccio and Essiembre (2009) suggested that the inherent variety and cross-functionality of project teams may decelerate the emergence of social cohesion and stimulate task cohesion. Indeed, Picazo et al. (2014) found that task cohesion proved to be stronger than social cohesion during the first stages of teamwork in project teams. This implies that task cohesion, and thus project commitment, can be evident at the group level early on, whereas social cohesion, or team commitment, may take longer to emerge as an effective predictor of project team outcomes. Furthermore, a note on the context of construction projects is warranted here. The construction industry is predominantly an engineering culture, where we would expect task commitment to be stronger than the more affective commitment to the group. Additionally, another explanation for lack of influence of team commitment might be found in the way teams are composed in a project setting. Construction project teams may consist of team members who share a history of collaboration, or they may comprise strangers who have never worked together before. Moreover, some team members may change during the course of the project, and there is no guarantee that they will work together again in the future, making them less inclined to develop relationships with other team members (Groenenboom, Wilke, & Wit, 2001).

Practical Implications

One of the most important tasks of project management is managing the people who will do the work of the project—namely, the project team. Thus, several practical implications for project managers can be drawn from the present study. First, our findings suggest that the development of trustful relationships among team members should be encouraged. This, again, can result in an increased feeling of commitment to the project. These relationships can enable and foster the sharing of knowledge within the team, which can contribute to project success. Though our findings suggest that trust can, to some extent, affect knowledge sharing in project teams directly, our results imply that we need to go beyond trust building among team members and look to develop a strong sense of commitment to the project among project team members. Even though trust alone shows small direct effects on knowledge sharing, this does not suggest that trust should be ignored. Trust is important in itself, and without it, commitment to the project is unlikely to occur. If team members trust their colleagues and have confidence in their abilities, they may be more willing to commit themselves and exert the effort necessary to make the project successful. Thus, trust needs to be developed and cultivated within a project team setting. This can be done by engaging team members in collaborative processes and providing opportunities for team members to demonstrate their individual competency. Project commitment can be fostered by continually emphasizing the overall project objectives and highlighting the importance and dependence of all team members’ contributions to reaching these goals.

The direct and indirect roles that trust plays in promoting knowledge sharing also suggest that managers should consider team composition when staffing project teams. A recent study found that positive prior ties among project team members can have a substantial effect on trust development (Buvik & Rolfsen, 2015), suggesting that team composition should be taken into account when staffing projects in order to create good conditions for early team trust. If project teams have low levels of trust, managers should take proper actions to improve trust levels; project commitment will follow.

An interesting implication of the different results of project commitment and team commitment is that project commitment appears to be a better predictor of knowledge sharing. Whether this is a particularity of project teams with technically oriented engineers remains to be seen, and should be the subject of future research; however, it suggests that the belief in and identification with the goals of the project takes priority over social cohesion in affecting knowledge sharing. Overall, our findings suggest that relational aspects in project teams are of great importance and should be given more attention by project members, managers, and others concerned with successful project outcomes.

Limitations and Future Research

Though it provides promising contributions to the literature, the present study is subject to some limitations. First, some caution should be taken on the comparison between team commitment and project commitment. These constructs are not necessarily measured in terms of the same commitment constructs, as team commitment reflects affective commitment and project commitment shows more resemblance with normative commitment. Second, although the majority of the project teams were sampled during the execution phase of the project, we did not control for project phase in the analysis. We recognize that it is possible that the phase of the project could have some implications regarding the need for knowledge sharing and the level of project commitment. Some methodological limitations also deserve attention. A word of caution is necessary in relation to the limitations of OLS regression analyses, which cannot test the causality of the modeled structures, meaning that the directions of relationships given in the models cannot be taken for granted. In our study, trust is treated as an antecedent of knowledge sharing. Though this complements existing approaches (Lee et al., 2010; Usoro, Sharratt, Tsui, & Shekar, 2007), alternative causal directions have been suggested, and reciprocal effects are also probable. For instance, there could be a reciprocal or reversed effect of knowledge sharing and dimensions of trust. We also acknowledge that there might be alternative models explaining the influences of commitment on the relationship between trust and knowledge sharing, and we recommend that future research should be designed to test the causal and dynamic relationship among trust, commitment, and knowledge sharing. Further, the present study suffers from being limited to cross-sectional data. Despite noteworthy questioning of the accuracy of a cross-sectional approach for assessing mediation (Maxwell & Cole, 2007; Maxwell, Cole, & Mitchell, 2011), most studies involving mediation have used cross-sectional data (Mitchell & Maxwell, 2013). An apparent shortcoming of cross-sectional design is its lack of temporal ordering of variables, and longitudinal studies incorporating the time dimension may be a more appropriate design for studying mediation. Longitudinal studies, however, should not be regarded as a blanket solution, or as both necessary and sufficient, because simply ordering variables according to time does not in itself guarantee that conclusions regarding causation can be reached in nonexperimental studies (Shrout & Bolger, 2002). Likewise, following project teams over time would be more challenging, considering the temporal nature of these teams, and the potential dropout in such studies could decrease the sample size and, thus, their statistical power. Cross-sectional designs are clearly more efficient in this sense. Nevertheless, we cannot conclude with certainty the causal effect of the significant mediation relationships in our study. However, the directions of causation in our results followed theoretical reasoning and findings from previous research, supporting our model.

The current study also relied exclusively on self-reporting measures and may suffer from common method bias, despite undertaking certain procedural remedies (Podsakoff et al., 2012); however, according to Spector (2006), the automatic inflation of correlations as a result of CMV reported in the literature is an oversimplification verging on urban legend. Nevertheless, CMV can produce biased results and should be taken seriously (Antonakis, Bendahan, Jacquart, & Lalive, 2010). To address this issue, we conducted the widely used Harman's single-factor test, which suggested that common method bias is not a major limitation in this research (Podsakoff et al., 2012). In accordance with the above cautions, future research should test the models on other samples and in combination with data other than self-reports. It is also important to test the models in longitudinal and multilevel studies, in order to shed more light on the causal nature and possible reciprocal relationship across time and different levels. In addition, future research should test the nature of the relationship between project commitment and team commitment to explain knowledge sharing and other project outcomes. Task duration and familiarity among team members may also impact the development of both foci of commitment, and should be considered in future studies.

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Marte Pettersen Buvik is a researcher at SINTEF Society and Technology and a PhD candidate in Organizational Psychology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Department of Industrial Economics and Technology Management. Her research interests include interpersonal trust, project work, teamwork, organizational development, psychosocial work environment, and organizational change processes. She has previously published in Work & Stress, International Journal of Project Management, and Team Performance Management. She can be contacted at marte.p.buvik@sintef.no

Sturle Danielsen Tvedt is working as a human factors specialist at the SIMSEA maritime simulator center in Haugesund, Norway, and has previously held a position as an Associate Professor in Organizational Psychology at Stord-Haugesund University College, Faculty of Technology, Business and Maritime Education. His research interests include teamwork, nontechnical skills, psychosocial work environment, and organizational change processes. He has previously published in Work & Stress, International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health, Journal of Identity and Migration Studies, and Team Performance Management. He can be contacted at st@simsea.no

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

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