Three empirical essays on trust in interorganizational relationships : an integration of multi-theoretic perspectives

組織間信任 : 一個多理論視角的考察

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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  • Weiguo ZHONG

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Awarding Institution
Award date14 Feb 2014


I conduct three empirical studies to examine the role of trust in interorganizational relationships. The first essay uses meta-analysis to simultaneously evaluate the development of trust in interorganizational relationships from transaction cost economics, social embeddedness perspective, and power-dependence theory. I find that firms investing specific assets hold lower level of trust towards the partner. Relationship duration displays an inverted-U relationship with trust. Interpersonal trust exerts no direct effect on performance but impacts it through the mediation of interorganizational trust. Dependence in general is positively related to a firm's willingness to take risks in a trusting relationship, a conclusion not applicable to goodwill-based trust. Finally, using relationship duration as an overarching construct across the three theories, we find that as the duration becomes longer, the asset-investing firm becomes more concern on the partner's opportunistic behavior, further undermining the development of trust. In addition, the relationship between dependence and competence-based trust becomes stronger while the dependence-goodwill-based trust relationship changes from insignificant to negatively stronger. Based on these results, we integrate the three theories to re-theorize about trust in the interorganizational relationships. The second essay, from transaction cost economics and social exchange theory, examines the relationship between contracts and trust in interfirm interactions. I contend that the contract-trust link is not uniform for the entire duration of a relationship but rather reveals time-dependent changes. As relationships evolve, the mechanisms (e.g., distrust-mitigating, trust-enabling, and distrust-fostering) through which contracts influence trust change their relative magnitude, leading to either a complementary or a substitution effect. A meta-analysis and a field survey of dyadic business partners across industries consistently confirm the hypotheses. The third essay, from the social psychology literature and the contracting theory, proposes an organizational trust ambivalence theory. I theorize that trust ambivalence between organizations develops, among other things, from firm dependence imbalance in which one party perceives more dependence on vs. less dependence from its partner. Such imbalanced dependence results in risks as perceived by a more dependent party and thus the degree to which the party is willing to be vulnerable to or vigilant against the concerned trustworthiness. I further argue that the coexistence of trust and distrust leads to governance complexity in which the concerned organization may combine multiple forms of governance to deal with its trust ambivalence. Finally, to add richness to the theory, I also look at trust ambivalence beyond the dyadic perspective to explore whether the network embeddedness would moderate the relationship between trust ambivalence and governance complexity. Using a matched sample of US supplier-Chinese distributor dyads, I find strong support for the theory.

    Research areas

  • Trust, Organizational behavior, Organization, Psychological aspects