Trust, Norms, and Cooperation: Development and Test of a Simplified Model

By Jeffries, Francis L.; Becker, Thomas E. | Journal of Behavioral and Applied Management, May 2008 | Go to article overview

Trust, Norms, and Cooperation: Development and Test of a Simplified Model


Jeffries, Francis L., Becker, Thomas E., Journal of Behavioral and Applied Management


Abstract

Trust at the interpersonal level in organizational settings has been researched extensively, yet little has been learned about the process through which trust affects cooperation and of the role of the social context in this process. Further, the models most often cited are complex and difficult to operationalize. This study investigates the effects of trust, subjective norms, and intent to cooperate on cooperative behavior using a simplified model. The findings demonstrate that the simplified model is useful for understanding the link between trust and cooperation and underscore the importance of perceived norms in the process. Implications for management are discussed.

Introduction

A concise definition of trust is, "confident positive expectations regarding another's conduct" (Lewicki, McAllister, & Bies, 1998: 439). Trust is of great interest to organizational scholars in many fields (e.g., Andersenn, 2005; Butler, 1995; Chowdhury, 2005; Currall & Judge, 1995; Dyer & Chu, 2003; Gill, Boies, Finegan, & McNally, 2005; Kramer & Tyler, 1996; Morrow, Hansen, & Pearson, 2004; Ross & LaCroix, 1996, Williams, 2001). One reason for this interest is the belief that trust in the workplace has important implications for the outcomes of individuals, groups, and organizations. Hosmer (1995) noted that trust is essential for understanding interpersonal and group behavior, economic exchange, managerial effectiveness, and social stability. Others have emphasized the role of trust in teamwork (Jones & George, 1998), risk-taking and outcomes in work relationships (Mayer, Davis, & Schoorman, 1995; Mesquita, 2007), the choice of governance structures (Chiles & McMackin, 1996), responses to crisis and downsizing (Mishra, 1996; Mishra & Spreitzer, 1998), and an organization's competitive advantage (Jones, 1995). In general, this theoretical work suggests that trust leads to better work relationships, improved decision making, and enhanced organizational effectiveness.

Empirical studies have validated many of these claims. For instance, in a study of 344 automaker-supplier relationships Dyer and Chu (2003) found that trust was correlated to reduced transaction costs (r = .66) and greater information sharing. Further, the costs of doing business with suppliers for the least trusted automaker were nearly six times higher than those for the most trusted. Costa (2003) found that trust improved team effectiveness (r = .17). For trust to produce the kinds of outcomes identified above, cooperation must occur. For example, effective teamwork requires that people work together for mutual gain (Guzzo & Shea, 1992; Lämsä & Pucetaite, 2006) and successfully dealing with an organizational crisis mandates widespread cooperative behavior (Webb, 1996). In these instances and others, cooperation means working with others for common good and includes behaviors such as sharing information, voluntarily helping others, and seeking mutually satisfactory solutions to problems (McAllister, 1995; Mesquita, 2007; Neale & Bazerman, 1991; Williams, 1993). Organizational theorists have long recognized that trust may promote cooperation between individuals in organizations (Barnard, 1938; Blau, 1964; Deutsch, 1962, 1973), and recent scholars continue to herald this point (DeCremer & Dewitte, 2002; Mesquita, 2007; Williams, 2007). In the end, it is trust between individuals that underlies and supports the favorable outcomes that accrue at the various levels of analysis.

Despite what has been learned, there are three critical shortcomings to the current knowledge of trust and cooperation at the interpersonal level of analysis. First, much of the recent trust literature has been purely theoretical and the process through which trust affects cooperative behavior has not been thoroughly examined empirically. Second, much of the literature assumes that trust must lead to a high degree of cooperation. …

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