Trust in inter-organizational relationships
Seppänen, Risto (2008-12-17)
Lappeenranta University of Technology
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Trust in inter-organizational collaborative relationships has attracted substantial research interest among academics and practitioners. Previous studies have concentrated on the benefits of trust to business outcomes and economic performance, as it is considered to be a source of competitive advantage. Despite this increased level of interest, there is no consensus, much less overall agreement, about how it should be conceptualized or about the number of dimensions it incorporates. On the inter-organizational level there is an obvious challenge in defining both the trusting party and the objects of trust. Thus, the notion of trust as an under-theorized and poorly understood phenomenon still holds. Hence, the motivation of this study was fuelled by the need to increase our knowledge and understanding of the role and nature of trust in inter-organizational collaborative relationships. It is posited that there is a call for more understanding about its antecedents and consequences, as well as about the very concept in inter-organizational collaborative relationships. The study is divided into two parts. The first part gives a general overview, and the second part comprises four research publications. Both qualitative and quantitative research methodology is utilized. A multi-method research design was used because it provides different levels of data and different perspectives on the phenomenon. The results of this study reveal that trust incorporates three dimensions on both the individual and the organizational level: capability, goodwill, and self-reference. Trust develops from the reputation and behavior of the trusted party. It appears from this study that trust is clearly directed towards both individual boundary spanners and the counterpart company itself – i.e. not only to one or the other. The trusting party, on the other hand, is always an individual, and not the organization per se. Trust increases collaboration benefits and lowers collaboration drawbacks, thus having a positive effect on relationship performance. The major contribution of this study lies in uncovering the critical points and drawbacks in prior research and thereby in responding to the highlighted challenges. The way in which these challenges were addressed offers contributions to three major issues in the emerging theory of trust in the inter-organizational context: firstly, this study clarifies the trustor-trustee discussion; secondly, it conceptualizes trust as existing on both individual and organizational levels; and thirdly, it provides more information about the antecedents of trust and the ways in which it affects relationship performance.
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