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Journal of Economic Psychology 29 (2008) 301313 www.elsevier.com/locate/joep

Personality traits and knowledge sharing

Kurt Matzler a,*, Birgit Renzl b, Julia Mu ller b, Stephan Herting c, Todd A. Mooradian d
Department of International Management, Johannes Kepler University Linz, Altenbergerstr. 69, 4040 Linz, Austria b Department of Strategic Management, Marketing and Tourism, University of Innsbruck, Universitaetsstrasse 15, 6020 Innsbruck, Austria Institute of Management, University of St. Gallen, Dufourstrasse 40a, 9000 St. Gallen, Switzerland d Mason School of Business, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA 23187-8795, USA Received 10 February 2006; received in revised form 11 June 2007; accepted 29 June 2007 Available online 7 July 2007

Abstract In this paper, we describe an empirical study that relates three personality traits (agreeableness, conscientiousness and openness) to knowledge sharing. In the existing literature considerable attention has been paid to managerial inuences on knowledge sharing, technological support through information and communication systems, or individual characteristics like motivation or the perception of conict of interest or vulnerability. Instead we concentrate on the role that personal dispositions play in individuals knowledge sharing behavior. By means of structural equation modeling with PLS, we discover signicant correlations between the personality traits and knowledge sharing within teams of an engineering company. Our results clearly contribute to the existing literature, as they oer empirical evidence of the impact of enduring individual characteristics on knowledge sharing. 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
JEL classication: M54 PsycINFO classication: 3120; 3620 Keywords: Knowledge sharing; Tacit Knowledge; Personality traits; Agreeableness; Conscientiousness; Openness

Corresponding author. Tel.: +43 732 2468 9449; fax: +43 732 2468 9135. E-mail address: kurt.matzler@jku.at (K. Matzler).

0167-4870/$ - see front matter 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.joep.2007.06.004


K. Matzler et al. / Journal of Economic Psychology 29 (2008) 301313

1. Introduction As various surveys show, knowledge management still is one of the central topics in management research (e.g., KPMG, 2000; Matzler, Rier, Hinterhuber, Renzl, & Stadler, 2005; Serenko & Bontis, 2004). Two factors support this growing interest in knowledge management (Cabrera & Cabrera, 2002). First, knowledge can be seen as an intangible asset which is most valuable to the rm because of the intensication of globalization, acceleration in the rate of change and expansion in the use of information technology (Badaracco, 1991). Knowledge is a potential source of competitive advantage because it is unique, scarce, path dependent, causally ambiguous, and hard to imitate or substitute by others (Nanda, 1996). The development of the resource-based view of the rm (Wernerfelt, 1984) and later the knowledge-based view (Boisot, 1998; Grant, 1996, 1997; Spender, 1996a) provides the theoretical framework of a whole discipline, namely knowledge management, that emerged in the last years with its own communities, journals and conferences. Second, progress in information and communication technologies have rendered possible to gather and process information from a variety of sources (Ferguson, Mathur, & Sha, 2005) and economically feasible to connect people from dierent departments, units, and geographically dispersed companies to communicate and exchange information (Anand, Manz, & Glick, 1998). Knowledge sharing is important for companies to be able to develop skills and competences, increase value, and sustain competitive advantages (see for example Grant, 1996; Spender, 1996b) because innovation occurs when people share and combine their personal knowledge with others. According to Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995) knowledge sharing is needed to convert general ideas and concepts into products and services and thus for innovation. Thus the ability of transferring knowledge from one person/unit to another significantly contributes to the organizational performance of rms (Argote, Ingram, Levine, & Moreland, 2000). Firms react to these requirements by introducing interdisciplinary work groups in order to cope with complex tasks in the workplaces (see Grant, 1996). However, the sharing of knowledge and expertise is delicate because it implies conicts of interest among the individuals involved (von Krogh, 1998) as the prominent example of open source projects shows (Gaechter, Haeiger, & von Krogh, 2004). There are also other factors that aect the decision whether to share or conceal knowledge, for example the particular case of a social dilemma (e.g., Cabrera & Cabrera, 2002; von Krogh, 2002). Social dilemmas are paradoxical situations in which individual rationality, i.e., maximizing the personal pay-o, leads to collective irrationality (Kollok, 1998). Increasing individual pay-o may evoke an individuals unwillingness to share knowledge. Therefore, previous studies focused on individual aspects as predecessors of knowledge sharing, as shown, for example, by Osterloh and Frey (2000) who highlight the importance of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation for knowledge sharing. Argote, Gruenfeld, and Naquin (2001) give another example and argue that knowledge sharing may evoke awareness of conict of interest or vulnerability, which can diminish the individuals motivation to share. In this paper, we concentrate on another individual aspect that has been mostly ignored by the knowledge management literature: personal dispositions are expected to aect the process of knowledge sharing. More specically, we examine which role three personality traits, namely agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness, play as determinants of the employees knowledge sharing behavior.

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In the next section, we address the characteristics of knowledge and knowledge sharing demonstrating the particularities of the knowledge sharing process. Then we introduce personality traits and concentrate on the three traits that are especially important for knowledge sharing: agreeableness, conscientiousness and openness. We hypothesize in which way agreeableness, conscientiousness and openness inuence knowledge sharing. Thereafter we describe our empirical study and report the results of our analysis using structural equation modeling with PLS. Finally, we consider implications for practice. 2. Properties of knowledge and knowledge sharing The ability to share knowledge depends on the properties of knowledge, which inuence how easily knowledge can be shared and accumulated, how much and where it is retained and stored, and how easily it ows within and across an organization (Argote, McEvily, & Reagans, 2003, p. 574). Various distinctions of knowledge have been analyzed (e.g., Blackler, 1995; Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995). The rst distinction in specifying knowledge properties is between knowledge and information. Knowledge is dierent from information: [I]nformation is a ow of messages, while knowledge is created by that very ow of information, anchored in the beliefs and commitment of its holder. . . . knowledge is essentially related to human action (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995, p. 58f). Furthermore, it can be distinguished between the tacit and the explicit dimension of knowledge that received great attention in the management literature and in knowledge management in particular. The dierence between the tacit and explicit dimension of knowledge (Baumard, 1999; Nelson & Winter, 1982; Polanyi, 1966) concentrates on the way of articulating knowledge. Explicit knowledge consists of facts, rules and policies that can be articulated and codied in writing or symbols and can be shared easily (Zander & Kogut, 1995). However, only a small part of our knowledge is explicit. The most knowledge to be shared is tacit, or embodied in practice and routines (Nelson & Winter, 1982) and thus non-codiable. This turns knowledge into a sticky element which is dicult to share (Kogut & Zander, 1992; von Krogh, Roos, & Slocum, 1994). The distinction between these two dimensions of knowledge is essential considering transferability and sharing of knowledge, but it must be noted that knowledge always consists of both, the tacit and the explicit dimension. Knowing is a process, which can be seen as an act of combining tacit and explicit knowledge in light of a specic action (see Polanyi, 1966, p. 6; Tsoukas & Vladimirou, 2001, p. 978). The context of the particular action is crucial or, as Orlikowski, 2002, p. 251, knowing is inseparable from action because it is constituted through such action. Thus, knowledge sharing involves transferring knowledge from one specic context into another. Previous studies focused mainly on the explicit dimension of knowledge (e.g., Cummings, 2004; Hansen, 2002); in this study, we regard the tacit dimension including the following ve types of knowledge: embrained, embodied, encultured, embedded, and encoded knowledge (see Blackler, 1995): embrained knowledge is related to conceptual skills and cognitive abilities (or double-loop learning from Argyris & Scho n, 1978, e.g., knowledge that from Ryles, 1949). Embodied knowledge is dened as action oriented, acquired by doing, and embedded in particular contexts (e.g., Polanyi, 1983). Encultured knowledge focuses on the shared understanding, socialization, and


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acculturation (e.g., Orr, 1990). Embedded knowledge is located in systemic routines (e.g., Granovetter, 1985; Nelson & Winter, 1982). Finally, encoded knowledge is codied in books, manuals and codes of practice and is made explicit through signs and symbols. In our study we analyzed knowledge sharing considering these ve types of tacit and explicit knowledge. Knowledge sharing happens when experience, know-how, expertise, etc. of one unit of an organization has an impact on another unit. Knowledge can be shared explicitly and implicitly: An example for explicit knowledge sharing is when one person/team communicates with another person/team about a specic practice which has worked out to be successful. Tacit knowledge sharing occurs without being able to articulate the knowledge acquired, for example, one can gain from increased productivity in the tool without automatically knowing or being able to articulate how the tool has been adapted (see for example Argote et al., 2000). As mentioned above, tacit knowledge is deeply rooted in the applied context and the people involved. Thus, the individual aspect is crucial. Individuals dier in their behavior due to enduring personality traits. In the following we analyze how personality traits aect knowledge sharing behavior. 3. Personality traits A dramatic upsurge in personality scholarship across the last decade and a half has generated important progress and scientic integration (Funder, 2001, p. 198). An essential part of that revitalization has been the recognition of a universal high-level structure dened by ve broad domains (the Five-Factor Model or Big Five, comprising neuroticism [vs. emotional stability], extraversion, agreeableness, openness to experience [or intellect], and consciousness). This ve-factor structure serves as a latitude and longitude for personality research, organizing, harmonizing, and integrating previously disconnected taxonomies and ndings (Funder, 2001; Ozer & Reise, 1994, p. 361). Important, related advances include improved and increasingly-specic understandings of the biophysiological, neurological, and genetic foundations of personality, which clarify the origins and the content of observable individual dierences (e.g., Zuckerman, 2005). Neuroticism and extraversion, the two predominantly aective traits within the Big Five, have been the longest and most often recognized and studied (e.g., Eysenck, 1991, 1992; Revelle, 1995; Watson, 2000). These two are closely related to temperament (aective, early appearing, extremely stable, constitutionally- and genetically-based, dierences observed across species; see Strelau, 1998; Zuckerman, 2005), may be more etiologically pure (Johnson & Krueger, 2004, p. 467), and have themselves been labeled the Big Two (Wiggins, 1968): Although ve dimensions are emphasized in descriptive models of personality traits, causal theories emphasize E and N (Rogers & Revelle, 1998, p. 1592). Less research has focused on, and somewhat more ambiguity lingers regarding the foundations, content, and measurement of conscientiousness, agreeableness, and openness to experience/intellect (Eysenck, 1991, 1992; Revelle, 1995, p. 307). Robust relationships have been recognized between personality and workplace variables including job satisfaction (Judge, Bono, & Locke, 2000), work attitudes (Judge, Heller, & Mount, 2002), trust (e.g., Mooradian, Renzl, & Matzler, 2006) and job performance (e.g., Barrick & Mount, 1991) as well as dierences in wages (Nyhus & Pons, 2005); nevertheless, the precise mechanisms via which personality inuences organizational and work-place behavior are not well understood (Raja, Johns, & Ntalianis, 2004). Due to the social and cognitive nature of conscientiousness, agreeableness, and openness, due also

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to their central role in explaining social behavior in the workplace (Witt, Burke, Barrick, & ` -vis extraverMount, 2002), in light of the relative paucity of research on these traits vis-a sion and neuroticism (Salgado, 1997), and in the context of constraints on data-collection instrument length, we developed our hypotheses and focused this research on these other three domains (Bergeman et al., 1993).

4. Hypotheses development Agreeableness. Agreeableness is the least heritable and most entrained to experience and environment among the Big Five traits (Graziano, 1994; Johnson & Krueger, 2004). People high on agreeableness are good-natured, forgiving, courteous, helpful, generous, cheerful and cooperative (Barrick & Mount, 1991). They are altruistic, sympathetic, and enthusiastic to help others, and they seek cooperation rather than competition (Liao & Chuang, 2004). Agreeableness has been shown to inuence job performance most when collaboration and cooperation amongst workers is essential (e.g., Mount, Barrick, & Stewart, 1998; Witt et al., 2002). Agreeableness entails getting along with others in pleasant, satisfying relationships (Organ & Lingl, 1995). Because knowledge sharing is a particular form of workplace helpfulness, cooperation, and collaboration and entails getting along with others within interpersonal relationships with colleagues and supervisors all behaviors directly tied to aspects of Agreeableness as just reviewed we hypothesize that: H1: Agreeableness is positively related to sharing knowledge with others. Conscientiousness. Individuals high on conscientiousness are more dutiful, dependable, reliable, responsible, organized, hardworking, and achievement-oriented (Barrick & Mount, 1991). The positive eects of conscientiousness on work performance have well been documented (Barrick & Mount, 1991; Tokar, Fischer, & Mezydlo Subich, 1998). The robust and compelling nature of the conscientiousness-performance relationship was emphasized by Barrick, Mount, and Judge: Indeed, it is hard to conceive of a job where it is benecial to be careless, irresponsible, lazy, impulsive, and low in achievement striving (low conscientiousness) (2001, p. 11). Conscientiousness has been shown to improve organizational citizenship (i.e., the individual contributions that go beyond role requirements and contractually rewarded job accomplishment (Organ & Ryan, 1995)). As a result of these features, people tend to do what is expected of them to carry out work (Liao & Chuang, 2004). Because knowledge sharing is a form of organizational citizenship that entails dutiful deference to organizational interests and group norms (especially over self-interest and personal goals), which are also core features of conscientiousness, we hypothesize: H2: Conscientiousness is positively related to sharing knowledge with others. Openness to experience. Openness to experience (which has been interpreted as Intellect in lexical solutions; e.g., Goldberg, 1993) is linked to active imagination, aesthetic sensitivity, attentiveness to inner feelings, preference for variety, intellectual curiosity, originality and independence of judgment (Costa & McCrae, 1992). Individuals with high levels of openness are curious about both inner and outer worlds and are willing to consider new ideas and unconventional values, and they experience both positive and negative emotions more keenly than individuals which score low on openness (Costa & McCrae, 1992). Furthermore, highly open people display intellectual curiosity, creativity, exible thinking, and culture (Dingman, 1990) and thus tend to have more positive attitudes


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towards learning new things, and are keener to engage in learning experience (Barrick & Mount, 1991). Cabrera, Collins, and Selgado (2006) discovered that openness is a strong predictor of knowledge sharing because openness to experience is a reection of a persons curiosity and originality which in turn are predictors of seeking other peoples insights. Therefore, it can be anticipated that open individuals develop more expertise. As Constant, Sproull, and Kiesler (1996) propose, individuals with higher levels of expertise are more likely to give useful advice; and less likely to contribute when they consider their expertise to be inadequate (Wasko & Faraj, 2000, 2005). People high in openness are more engaged contributing and seeking knowledge. Thus, we hypothesize: H3: Openness is positively related to sharing knowledge with others 5. Study 5.1. Sample To examine the hypothesized relationship between agreeableness, conscientiousness, openness and knowledge sharing we gathered data in an internationally operating engineering company. The company is positioned among the worlds leading independent engineering consultants, particularly concerning tunnelling, underground construction and pipeline construction. It employs more than 600 members of sta, mostly civil, mechanical, or electrical engineers. The companys headquarters are in Germany and Austria; however, employees are globally dispersed and include various nationalities. As a presurvey we conducted ve in-depth interviews with engineers and managers, to get a better understanding of the context, and to adjust the survey instruments. We disseminated the standardized self-administered questionnaire to 620 members of the company in German and English. One hundred and twenty-four fully completed and usable questionnaires were returned, which is a response rate of 20%. Anonymity and condential treatment of the responses were assured. Respondents were requested to provide demographic information as element of the self-report questionnaire, for example, age, job tenure, education level, and professional level. Most of the respondents (79%) are 45 years old or younger, and 41% of them have worked for the company for more than ve years; almost 70% hold a university degree, and more than 70% of the respondents are working on the level of a project manager or constructing engineer. Non-response bias was tested comparing the responses between early respondents and late respondents (Armstrong & Overton, 1977). No signicant dierences were found. Hence, non-response bias seems not to be a problem. 5.2. Measures Personality traits were assessed by means of the German version of the NEO ve-factor inventory (NEO-FFI), which was originally developed by Costa and McCrae (1992) and translated and validated into German language by Borkenau and Ostendorf (1993). The NEO-FFI is a well accepted, widely assessed and extensively used scale to measure the Big Five personality dimensions (e.g., Mooradian & Olver, 1997; Raja et al., 2004; Renner, 2002). From the NEO-FFI-questionnaire the subscales concerning agreeableness,

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conscientiousness, and openness were chosen to asses the items with a ve-point Likert scale (from strong approval to strong disapproval). In literature, a number of scales have been used to measure knowledge sharing (e.g., Cummings, 2004; Hansen, 2002, 1999; Szulanski, 1996). For the purpose of this study, knowledge sharing was assessed based on Blackler (1995) knowledge sharing scale which best ts the ve types of knowledge outlined above. We developed the following knowledge sharing scale using the adapted wording according to the company context: On average, how often did you share each type of knowledge during the project within the team: (1) embodied knowledge (e.g., experience-based, learning by doing, etc.), (2) embrained knowledge (e.g., conceptual skills and cognitive abilities), (3) encultured knowledge (e.g., shared understandings, incidents, etc.), (4) embedded knowledge (e.g., rm specic routines and procedures, etc.), and (5) encoded knowledge (e.g., manuals and job descriptions, etc.). By means of a ve-point-scale (1 never; 2 on request and to specic persons; 3 on request to everybody; 4 unrequested to specic persons; 5 unrequested to everybody) the regularity of knowledge sharing within the team was measured. A team is a group of people [. . .] who come together to achieve certain results or performance goals. The members are functionally interdependent and bring their individual knowledge and complementary skills to the task so that, individually and collectively, they yield the results for which they are held accountable (Gardenswartz & Rowe, 1994). In the setting of the company under study, teams on average consisted of 1015 persons. They worked together as a team for the duration of a project (from several months to several years) in tunnelling, underground construction or pipeline construction. Depending on the type of project teams consisted of mostly civil, mechanical, or electrical engineers. 5.3. Data analysis and results The relationships between the constructs were examined with structural equation modeling using the partial least squares (PLS) approach. According to Hulland (1999) procedure, a PLS model is examined and interpreted in two steps. In the rst step, the measurement model ought to be examined by performing validity and reliability analyses on each of the measures of the model. This is needed to guarantee that only reliable and valid measures of the constructs are used before conclusions about the nature of the construct relationships are drawn (Hulland, 1999). In the second step, the structural model is examined by estimating the paths between the constructs in the model, determining their signicance as well as the predictive ability of the model. Reliability and validity were examined observing: (1) individual item reliabilities, (2) the convergent validity of the measures linked to individual constructs, and (3) discriminant validity. The item loadings are displayed in Fig. 1. The reliability examination of the two personality traits did not yield exactly the expected results in accordance with the standardized scales (Borkenau & Ostendorf, 1993) and had to be puried by eliminating some of the items with low loadings, making up the scales with remaining ve items on the conscientiousness-scale, three items on the agreeableness-scale and four items on the openness-scale. These results and the required modications are not surprising, as other researchers described comparable ndings of the German version of the NEO-FFI scales computed in Conrmatory Factor Analyses (e.g., Renner, 2002). The other scales were showing satisfactory item reliabilities.


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Consc 1 Consc 2 Consc 3 Consc 4 Consc 5 Share 1 Agree 1 Agree 3 Agree 2 Open 1 Open 2 Open 3 Open 4
Fig. 1. Structure model and results of partial least squares analysis.
.79 .76 .69 .77 .81 .72 .87 .81 .71 .73 .73 .73 .61



Share 2 Share 3 Share 4 Share 5



Knowledge Sharing R=.27

.68 .62 .59 .77



With the exception of one item (item 3 of the construct openness) all items have loadings above 0.6 which show high item reliabilities. Convergent validity was assessed using Fornell and Larcker (1981) measure of internal consistency (IC), which is superior to Cronbach Alpha because it uses the item loadings obtained within the nomological network. Finally, average variance extracted (AVE) was calculated with the following values: agreeableness (IC = 0.79, AVE = 0.56), conscientiousness (IC = 0.83, AVE = 0.50), openness (CR = 0.76, AVE = 0.45), and knowledge sharing (CR = 0.90, AVE = 0.64). These values mean that also convergent validity is satisfying. Discriminant validity means that measures of a given construct dier from the ones of another construct (Hulland, 1999). Discriminant validity can be measured from the latent variable correlations matrix (Table 1), where the square roots of the average variance extracted values calculated for each of the constructs along the diagonal is shown. The correlations between the constructs are shown in the lower left o-diagonal elements in the matrix. Discriminant validity is given, when the diagonal elements (square root AVE) are greater than the o-diagonal elements in the corresponding rows and columns (Fornell
Table 1 Latent variable correlation matrix Knowledge sharing Knowledge sharing Agreeableness Conscientiousness Openness Internal consistency AVE 0.80 0.36 0.33 0.39 0.90 0.64 Agreeableness 0.75 0.20 0.33 0.79 0.56 Conscientiousness Openness

0.70 0.17 0.83 0.50

0.67 0.76 0.45

Square root of AVE is on the diagonal.

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& Larcker, 1981). As Table 1 shows discriminant validity is satisfactory. Overall, the measures report good reliability and validity. 5.4. Path coecients and predictive ability Fig. 1 shows the path coecients, their signicance level and the R2 values. PLS uses the bootstrapping method (Efron & Gong, 1983) to calculate the standard errors and thereby assesses the signicance of the structural coecients. Standard errors of parameters were calculated on the basis of 500 bootstrapping runs. All paths are signicant at p < 0.001 level. R2 value of the endogenous construct is 0.27. An explained variance of 27% can be seen as typical for such studies. It is in the range of explained variance of most other empirical studies that tested the eect of personality traits on job performance (e.g., Barrick & Mount, 1991), organizational citizenship behavior (e.g., Organ & Ryan, 1995), job satisfaction (e.g., Judge et al., 2002), and vocational behavior (Tokar et al., 1998). 6. Discussion and conclusion The results of the study clearly report that stable characteristics of the individuals, i.e., agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness inuence knowledge sharing. These results are essential as they extend existing literature on knowledge management by taking personal dispositions as inuencing factors of knowledge sharing into account and presenting empirical evidence. Existing literature on knowledge management has been concentrated on environmental, particularly managerial eects on knowledge sharing (e.g., Cabrera & Cabrera, 2002; Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995) whereas this paper focuses on individual factors. It makes a relevant contribution to the literature on personality psychology and organization studies as well, as these links have not been studied before. A practical implication of these results is that rms could advance knowledge sharing via personnel screening. The selection of employees and their retention are central functions of management and companies regularly request or require applicants and employees to submit self-reports concerning personality and personality-like traits (e.g., Barrick, Mount, & Judge, 2001). Team members or team leaders, who score high on agreeableness, openness and conscientiousness, are more willing to engage in sharing knowledge. As a consequence management can try to compose teams according to these personality characteristics or assign documentation or sharing roles within the teams accordingly. Thus, critical knowledge is created within certain teams which then can be shared. The theory and results shown in this study may also support managers to identify potential boundary spanners (e.g., Wenger, 2000) and, similarly, to identify others reluctant to share knowledge, which would inuence knowledge sharing within and across teams. Another, may be more important implication of the ndings relates to the design of knowledge management systems and to the assignment of dierent roles within a team. Empirical studies also found positive relationships between conscientiousness and organizational citizenship behavior (Organ, 1994), i.e., the individuals contributions that go beyond role requirements and contractually rewarded job achievements (Organ & Ryan, 1995). Thus, it could be argued that employees with high levels of conscientiousness are more willing to engage into the eort to document their knowledge in order to share it with others, to enter their knowledge into knowledge data bases, to use knowledge data bases,


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etc. Hence, such individuals could be assigned the role of documenting data, entering the data in knowledge data bases, and maintaining such data bases. In previous studies, it has been found that agreeable individuals are altruistic, sympathetic, and eager to help others, and that they strive for cooperation rather than competition (Liao & Chuang, 2004). Hence, agreeableness involves getting along with others in pleasant, satisfying relationships (Organ & Lingl, 1995). As such individuals have stronger social ties at the workplace than individuals with lower agreeableness, they could be assigned the role of boundary spanners between teams, assigning them the role to transfer non-codiable knowledge that cannot be stored in data bases. Finally, openness has been shown to be related with knowledge sharing. Previous studies have shown that openness also predicts learning and expertise (Cabrera et al., 2006). Hence, the particular role of individuals within a team scoring high on openness could be the acquisition of knowledge and the dissemination of the knowledge within the team. References
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