Sub-theme 02: (SWG) Organizational Trust across Contexts: Towards More Context-sensitive Research

Nicole Gillespie
University of Queensland, Australia
Antoinette Weibel
University of St. Gallen, Switzerland
Rosalind Searle
Coventry University, UK

Call for Papers

Trust has become a central topic in organizational research over the past two decades (see for example special issues in Organization Studies, AMR, HRMJ, etc.). Yet, surprisingly little research has considered the context-boundedness of trust and context-specific forms of trust (Kramer, 2007: 13). Much research tacitly assumes that trust is a universal concept and can be developed along the same routes in any national socio-economic context. Although there are a number of sporadic contributions on context-specific issues of trust (e.g. Child & Möllering, 2003; Hagen & Choe, 1998; Welter & Kautonen, 2005; Yamagishi et al., 1998), there are only a few conceptual attempts that recognize differences in the meaning or form of trust between different environments, and systematically examine the causes and consequences. For instance, stakeholders tend to look for different trust cues when forming expectations about companies (Pirson & Malhotra, 2010). Some researchers argue that value congruence is an important aspect of trust-based relations and that core values differ between groups (Bijlsma-Frankema et al., 2006). It has been suggested that interaction-based forms of trust are more dominant in countries that follow the model of 'liberal capitalism' while strongly regulated business systems ('coordinated capitalism') have a greater capacity to build trust on the basis of institutional arrangements, i.e. institutional-based trust (Bachmann, 2001).

What is missing is a comprehensive understanding of how various forms of trust can be developed successfully within and, specifically, across contextual, institutional and cultural borders (Ferrin & Gillespie, 2010; Saunders et al., 2010; Zaheer & Zaheer, 2006). This blind spot in trust research may well be caused by a dominance of functionalist-objective research approaches and the view that only universally invariant phenomena deserve to be studied. This sub-theme is aimed at the critical review of these assumptions and the systematic exploration of context and trust. In addition, we also wish to re-iterate the pledge of Bamberger (2008) to move from simply identifying the context within which a distinct phenomenon is analyzed to develop theories that incorporate differences in the phenomenon across contexts – a call which is virulent for trust research.

We invite contributions that provide insight on the impact of context on the forms, meanings, dynamics and/or processes of organizational and institutional trust. In line with our Standing Working Group (SWG) 02, the focus is on trust at the organizational and institutional level, as well as the dynamic interplay of trust between levels. We encourage papers that examine the influence of a range of contextual variables, including but not limited to: national and organizational culture, legal frameworks, institutional forms, socio-economic factors, power and vulnerability, historical and temporal influences, etc. This sub-theme aims to shed light on the causes and consequences of these differences and identify strategies for the context-sensitive management of trust-based vertical and horizontal business relationships within and across borders.

Below are some indicative questions:

  • What contextual factors influence the form and function of trust? How does trust differ in understudied contexts such as family businesses, the public sector, or highly turbulent economic, political, organizational, or societal environments?
  • In which contexts do interaction-based forms of trust matter more than impersonal forms, and vice versa? Under which circumstances is trust predominately calculative?
  • Does trust development always go in stages? If so, how might different contexts influence the order of these stages?
  • To what extent and how are efforts to repair organizational trust influenced by the specific contexts in which relationships are embedded?
  • How might trust affect the contexts in which it occurs? How can trust be institutionalized to the extent that it becomes part of the context?
  • How do contextual factors currently prevalent in many organizations, such as downsizing, cost-cutting and future uncertainty, influence organizational trust?



Bachmann, Reinhard (2001): 'Trust, Power and Control in Trans-Organizational Relations.' Organization Studies, 22 (2), pp. 337–365.
Bamberger, Peter (2008): 'Beyond contextualization: Using context theories to narrow the micro-macro gap in management research.' Academy of Management Journal, 51 (5), pp. 839–846.
Bijlsma-Frankema, Katika, Sim Sitkin & Antoinette Weibel (2006): Distrust in the balance: Evolution and resolution of inter-group distrust between judges and administrators in a Court of Law. Paper presented at the EGOS Colloquium in Bergen, Norway.
Child, John & Guido Möllering (2003): 'Contextual confidence and active trust development in the Chinese business environment.' Organization Science, 14 (1), pp. 69–80.
Ferrin, Donald L. & Nicole Gillespie (2010): 'Trust differences across national-societal cultures: Much to do, or much ado about nothing?' In: Mark N. Saunders, Denise Skinner, Graham Dietz, Nicole Gillespie & Roy J. Lewicki (eds.): Organizational Trust: A Cultural Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 42–86.
Hagen, James M. & Soonkyoo Choe (1998): 'Trust in Japanese interfirm relations: Institutional sanctions matter.' Academy of Management Review, 23 (3), pp. 589–600.
Kramer, Roderick M. (2007): Organizational Trust: A Reader. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Pirson, Michalel & Deepak K. Malhotra (2011): 'Foundations of Organizational Trust: What matters to different stakeholders?' Organization Science, 22 (4), pp. 1087–1104.
Saunders, Mark N., Denise Skinner, Graham Dietz, Nicole Gillespie & Roy J. Lewicki (eds.): Organizational Trust: A Cultural Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Welter, Friederike & Teemu Kautonen (2005): 'Trust, social networks and enterprise development: exploring evidence from East and West Germany.' The International Entrepreneurship and Management Journal, 1 (3), pp. 367–379.
Yamagishi, Toshio, Karen S. Cook & Motoki Watabe (1998): 'Uncertainty, trust, and commitment formation in the United States and Japan.' American Journal of Sociology, 104 (1), pp. 165–194.
Zaheer, Srilata & Akbar Zaheer (2006): 'Trust across borders.' Journal of International Business Studies, 37 (1), pp. 21–29.


Nicole Gillespie is Professor at the University of Queensland, Australia, and researches in the field of organizational trust and trust repair. Her work appears in journals such as 'Academy of Management Review', 'Journal of Management' and 'Sloan Management Review', as well as books (e.g. "Organizational Trust: A Cultural Perspective", CUP) and commissioned reports (e.g. Institute of Business Ethics).
Antoinette Weibel is Professor for Human Resources Management and Director at the Institute for Leadership and HRM at University of St. Gallen, Switzerland. She has published in journals such as 'Journal of Public Administration', 'Group and Organization Management' and 'International Journal of Human Research Management'. She is President of FINT, the first international network of trust, and serves on the Editorial Board of 'JPART'.
Rosalind Searle holds the chair of Organisational Behaviour and Psychology at Coventry Business School, UK. She is also Co-founder and Director for the Centre for Trust and Ethical Behaviour (CETEB). Her research interest focuses on organisational level trust, trust and HRM, trust repair and appears in leading journals (e.g. 'International Journal of HRM' and 'International Review of Organizational and Industrial Psychology') and books (e.g. co-editor of "Trust and HRM", Edward Elgar). She is co-guest editor of the special issue of 'Journal of HRM' on "Trust and HRM" and on the Editorial Boards of the 'Journal of Management' and 'Journal of Trust Research'.