Organizational Trust: Challenges and Dilemmas

Searle, Rosalind; Bachmann, R; Gillespie, N and Weibel, A (2011). Organizational Trust: Challenges and Dilemmas. In: EGOS, 5-8 Jul 2011, Gotenberg, Sweden.


Trust in organizations is necessary for their long term survival and is a key source of competitive advantage (Barney and Hansen 1994). A number of studies have shown employee trust to be a critical variable affecting the effectiveness and efficiency of organizations (Whitney 1994, Kramer and Tyler 1996, Mayer and Davis 1999; Searle et al 2009). In the context of inter-organizational relationships, trust has been identified as essential to save costs and foster innovation (Bachmann 2001). Blau (1964) suggests that trust is central to social exchange processes and empirical work has confirmed that trust fosters desirable work-related behaviours, commitment, discretionary effort and increased cooperation (Zand 1972, Konovsky and Pugh 1994, Kramer 1999). In contrast, those who do not trust their organization often reduce effort (Dirks and Ferrin 2001), engage in counterproductive behaviour, such as obstruction or seeking revenge (Bies and Tripp 1996) or decide to leave the organization after a short period of employment (Robinson 1996). If trust is missing in inter-organizational relationships, this can seriously jeopardise firms’ performance and innovativeness.
The current global crisis has made even more salient the issue of trust in and between organizations, crystallizing it within a wide ranging context and a broad number of stakeholder groups. For example, customers and shareholders lost trust in once pivotal organizations such as banks and, more broadly, the public lost trust with the current economic system, and it is highly questionable whether we can tackle this problem by merely translating our relatively well developed knowledge of the dynamics of trust relationships at the individual level to organizational and societal trust.
Despite recognition that trust operates at multiple levels (see Rousseau, Sitkin, Burt and Camerer 1998; Janowicz and Noorderhaven 2006) the area remains fragmented; some social science disciplines are slow to conceptualise trust at the institutional and organizational levels, while others have not incorporated interpersonal dimensions into their insights into trust at the collective level. Generally, not enough attempts have been made to capture the essence of impersonal trust [for foundational work see: Barber (1986), Shapiro (1987) and Zucker (1986); Lane and Bachmann 1996, for recent work see Gillespie and Dietz, 2009] and to get to grips with how macro and micro level forces influence trust dynamics at the institutional level. This track now takes trust in organizations and institutions as its central focus and seeks to promote a cross- disciplinary dialogue to unpack systematically this hitherto under-researched area.
This track, therefore, aims to advance our conceptual understanding of trust at the macro level, and critical reflection on its nature, dynamics, processes, antecedents and consequences. The track will be wide-ranging, including not only empirical research, but also theoretical papers and insightful reviews of existing relevant theory and research. We actively encourage a trans-disciplinary dialogue that aims to contrast and complement different approaches to micro-orientated research and more macro-based analyses of trust in private, public and not-for-profit sectors, and governance institutions. Papers are expected to have a clear ambition towards first-rate publication, and accepted papers will be encouraged to submit for the forthcoming Special Issue of Organizational Studies on ‘Trust in Crisis: Organizational and Institutional Trust, Failures and Repair’ (deadline December 2012).

Examples of relevant questions to be addressed include the following:
1. How can organizational trust be defined?
2. How does trust at the interpersonal and the macro level differ and inter-relate?
3. Are trust and trustworthiness to be modelled differently at different levels of analysis (individual, group, organizational, inter-organizational, societal) or can they be assumed to operate in similar ways?
4. What are the antecedents of organizational and institutional trust?
5. How are organizational and institutional trust linked to firms’ performance and innovativeness?
6. What are the dimensions of macro-level trust? Are they the same as the dimensions typically found at interpersonal levels (for example ability, benevolence, integrity, predictability)?
7. What are the processes and dynamics of trust at the organizational and institutional levels (e.g., formation, maintenance, dissolution and repair/restoration)?
8. To what extent do antecedents and processes of trust vary across different stakeholder groups (e.g. employees, customers, investors, suppliers, legislators etc.)? How can organizations deal with incompatible expectations from various stakeholder groups?
9. Do antecedents and processes of trust vary across different organizational, institutional and cultural contexts?

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