Trust the powerful, trust in progress, and trust in power/knowledge.

In this blog series I am focusing on learning & development implications in how organizations use ESN technology. In the first post, I explained that exposure to ideas is good, but there could be trouble in properly assessing/improving the quality of that data. My second post examined the importance of interpersonal and competency trust as individuals interact with the goal of learning. Continuing my three part blog series, I’m focusing on the issue of organizational trust and power relationships, and in particular, how that might affect group learning initiatives.



I was interested in Manuel Castells, “simple” 4 part typology of power, as interpreted in the Gordon Ross blog/video, (at 22:00).



In this case, I’m using a similar, repetitive naming convention, and laying out 3 different ways that trust is connected to power dynamics within an organization, and with positive and negative implications for organizational learning.

  • Trust the Powerful
  • Trust in Progress
  • Trust in Power/Knowledge

At a basic level, organizational members need to Trust the Powerful. Put simply, do employees feel their organization will support them if they share ideas more broadly. There are a number of ways of looking at this.  At an individual level, employees have an economic incentive to hoard knowledge that offers them an individual competitive advantage. Also consider that this sharing may expose flawed thinking on the part of those employees, who may feel exposed to critique. These ideas are covered well in the Hislop text. For our purposes here, I’m more interested in power relations. At a group/organizational level, even if the shared employee ideas are strong, they may ultimately contest the current/comfortable status of an organization and cause stress. In short, you can speak truth to power, but will they want to hear it? Do they trust themselves and their own power enough to consider potential challenges from their followers.

Of course, sharing ideas/knowledge is easier if ultimately employees Trust in Progress. People need to feel that sharing their knowledge and supporting the powerful will ultimately lead to some sort of positive change for the organization or for the world. One thinker I discovered in the MSLOC Foundations class was Gregory Unruh, who writes extensively about the power of leaders with a compelling vision for positive change. Individuals who could effectively communicate a larger, positive vision were more effective in drawing followers to their cause. Unruh is particularly passionate about the cause of environmental sustainability (as am I), and it seems clear the cause-based organizations can only flourish if there is trust in the leadership vision. In our course, this idea was also present in the corporate world described in the Danone case study. where leadership was motivated to offer nutritious food products to the poorer segments of society. I imagine that employees of Danone could more easily support corporate initiatives that were framed in a “were making the world a better place” context.  We should also consider the concept of competency outlined by Newell and Swan in their typology of trust (Hislop, 178). It is critical that employees feel a leader’s vision, however compelling, is ultimately achievable by him/her.  To simply, it is not enough to talk the talk (or even walk the walk), but do leaders have the power to achieve those ideas and make progress.

Finally, there is some level of trust in the power of knowledge itself. Trust in Power/Knowledge is not so much a call to trust in the concept of Power/Knowledge as defined by Michel Foucault. (hence the strikeout)  It’s somewhat the opposite. It refers to the employees’ trust in their own knowledge, the “marketplace of ideas,” and the meritocratic principles that will push good ideas/concepts forward.  Of course that is an idealistic vision, but acceptance of this vision at some level is necessary to spur organizational learning. It is worth considering the potential downsides too. If we consider the ideas of Michel Foucault, it seems that trust may be misplaced due to larger power dynamics that can turn untruths into truths. In this case, the marketplace of ideas is rigged in favor of the powerful. We should recognize the reality that powerful people have influence over the “truth,” but also hope that truthful ideas can still germinate/grow/spread in an organization.

In the end, there seem countless ways to incorporate the concept of trust when looking at organizational learning. I’ve briefly explored three: Trust the Powerful, Trust in Progress, and Trust in Power/Knowledge. To tie blog 3 back to blog 1, there also a necessary trust that the ESN technology is well suited to sharing knowledge within an organization. As practitioners we should consider the importance of trust and the human capital elements necessary to ensure quality knowledge is developed/shared in the ESN format.




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