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Organizational Trust: A Cultural Perspective.

Byline: Yorid Ahsan Zia and M. Zeb Khan


Increased competitiveness and uncertainty in the wake of globalization require among other considerations the ability to develop trusting relationships. Uncertainty entails great risks because of differences in partners' culture values and goals. An important question is whether societal culture influences the tendency of individuals and organizations to trust. This study which is meta- analysis in approach attempts to explore cultural differences across countries and their likely impact on inter and intra-organization relationships. The results show that trust is deeply embedded in cultural context of a country and has profound implications for both strategic and transactional relationships involving spatial and/or temporal differences.

Keywords: Culture trust globalization uncertainty strategic relationship


Organizations and their employees are increasingly enmeshed in complex interdependencies across national organizational and professional borders which poses a challenge for people from different cultures' to manage unfamiliar relationships with unfamiliar parties. Lasting relationships require inter alia mutual trust that one's weaknesses and vulnerabilities will not be exploited in a given exchange. Organizations like individuals enter into relationships with individuals and other organizations for mutual benefits which involves mutual trust. Trust indicates one's willingness to be vulnerable to another party as a consequence of a belief in that party's competence capacity reliability openness and good intent. Many rational calculations and emotional feelings underlie the phenomenon of trust. Individuals generally consider the background personal disposition and culture of another when seeking to determine whether or not to trust them.

However culture which reflects the habits of society and the taken for granted assumptions has a crucial role in determining the level of trust. It is little wonder that cross-cultural interaction often involves misunderstandings embarrassment feelings of low self- efficacy even psychological distress (Molinsky 2007).

The purpose of this paper is to reflect on the conceptual underpinnings and empirical research on the nature meaning and development of trust across multiple cultural boundaries in order to facilitate a cumulative body of knowledge on this richly complex process. The study attempts to answer the following questions:

1. What role does culture play in the trust-development process

2. Can common cultural identities be used to overcome barriers to trust resulting from divergent cultural identities

3. Is the influence of culture on trust building and repair overplayed

4. What is the role of leadership in building trust across culture

The Concept of Culture

Culture consists of patterns explicit and implicit of and for behaviour acquired and transmitted by symbols constituting the distinctive achievements of human groups including their embodiment in artefacts; the essential core of culture consists of traditional ideas and especially their attached values. According to Hofstede (1994) Culture is the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another".

It is an agreed upon fact that behaviour is predominantly influenced by her nationality religion industry corporate culture or professional culture. Schein describes three levels of culture. First artefacts are the observable manifestations of culture " an observer can see smell taste hear and/or touch them. In an organizational context these include the physical buildings and furnishings organizational charts company logos forms of dress styles of interaction language and communication etc. (Schneider and Barsoux 2003). Second values express a group's beliefs about how things should be (Doney et al. 1998). Rokeach (1973) defined values as enduring beliefs that a specific mode of conduct or end-state of existence is personally or socially preferable to an opposite or converse mode of conduct or end-state of existence'. The third and the deepest level of culture is basic assumptions.

These are the unconscious beliefs that define certain actions as normal correct or good (Schneider and Barsoux 2003). For Schein (1997) these assumptions are the ultimate source of cultural values and behaviour. Together with values they are learned from an early age and reinforced throughout a person's socialization into a culture such that they are taken for granted and rarely questioned.

Organizational Trust

Trust is defined as the willingness of a party (the trustor) to be vulnerable to the actions of another party (the trustee) based on the expectation that the trustee will perform a particular action important to the trustor irrespective of the ability to monitor or control the party (Mayer et al. 1995). Both an expectation of the partner's trustworthiness and the behavioural intention to act on the expectation must be present for trust to exist (Moorman et al. 1993). Mayer et al. (1995) identify three prominent dimensions of trustworthiness: ability (the group of skills competencies and characteristics that enable a party to have influence within some specific domain); benevolence (perception of a positive orientation of the trustee toward the trustor including expressions of genuine concern and care); and integrity (perception that the trustee adheres consistently to a set of principles acceptable to the trustor such as honesty and fairness).

At the narrowest level parties may only trust each other on the strength of a cost benefit analysis (i.e. calculative trust) but at the broader end of a continuum of intensity parties can identify fully with each other's interests and desires and operate with such a high level of mutual understanding that they can act for each other (Lewicki and Bunker 1996).

Trust may both be inter-organizational (external trust) or intra-organizational (internal trust). External trust is the extent to which organizational members have collectively held trust orientation toward a partner firm. This kind of trust enhances organizational relationships in a variety of contexts including marketing channels joint ventures and inter-organizational alliances (Johnson et al. 1996). Internal trust is the climate of trust within an organization defined as positive expectations that individuals have about the intent and behaviours of multiple organizational members based on organizational roles relationships experiences and interdependencies (Shockley-Zalabak 2000). Organizations with high levels of internal trust will be more successful adaptive and innovative because of its contribution toward organizational commitment and employee satisfaction (Flaherty and Pappas 2000).

Trust and organizational effectiveness

An organization's ability to develop trusting relationships is an increasingly important source of competitive advantage and many advantages accrue to firms that enjoy an internal climate of trust (Lane 1998). According to Shaw (1997) trust is an important factor in determining organizational success organizational stability and the wellbeing of employees. Organizational trust plays a vital role in such diverse areas as communication leadership management by objectives negotiations performance appraisal labour-management relations and implementation of self-managed work teams (Lawler 1992). Moreover Interpersonal trust is associated with cooperation the quality of group communication and problem solving knowledge transfer (Levin and Cross 2004) employees' extra effort team performance and organizational revenue and profit (Simons 2002).

Indeed trust is held to be a major contributor to organizational competitiveness because it cannot be easily imitated or replicated (Barney and Hansen 1994).

Trust across cultures: Japan versus the USA

Japan is often used as a cultural model for fostering trust and cooperation (Hagen and Choe 1998). Dyer and Singh (1998) note that Japanese firms incur lower transaction costs than the U.S. firms and generate higher relational rents in part because of country-specific institutional environment that fosters goodwill trust and cooperation. Some scholars argue that even Japan the typical role model of a trusting collectivist society is not as trusting as commonly believed. Yamagishi (1998) has found that Japanese respondents have lower levels of trust in other people in general than the U.S. respondents. It appears then that while collectivists place a premium on relationships certain aspects of collectivist cultures could inhibit trust formation. One aspect may be collectivists' sharp distinction between members of in-groups and out-groups (Triandis 1995).

Collectivists are relatively ineffective with strangers commonly use avoidance behaviours and compete with manipulate and exploit out-groups more extensively than individualists (Watkins and Liu 1996). If this low level of trust for outsiders is an inherent part of collectivist cultures organizations from collectivist cultures would appear to be handicapped in their ability to develop trusting relationships in a world economy where that ability is becoming increasingly important.

Moreover individual group members' average propensity to distrust will be higher in organizations from collectivist than from individualist cultures. Once developed the group bias tends to be self-perpetuating. As Yamagishi (1998) notes that in a situation in which most people are practicing in-group favouritism would face cold responses from the other members of his/her group at best and could face ostracism. People however acquire such a trait (in-group bias) since it is advantageous to do so when the configuration exists and the configuration exists since people exhibit such traits.

Building trust across cultures

Lewicki and Bunker (1996) have proposed a four-stage process of trust building across cultures. In the first stage the parties encounter with their own cultural preconceptions (Doney et al) which vary in compatibility as well as complexity. However the parties also come with some level of cross-cultural capabilities and awareness and motivation to adapt. In the second stage parties try to overcome the cultural gap by suspending judgment (which may result from ethnic historical and national differences). During the third phase parties initiate communication and gather trust-relevant information seek to interpret cures and modify preconceived notions (Johnson and Cullen 2002). Sometimes the parties fail to understand cultural differences and reconcile them which result in distrust (Zaheer et al . However most often the parties develop mutual understanding.

In the last stage the cultural gap is eliminated and the relationship gets mature with the result that both parties work together harmoniously and productively for a relatively longer period of time.


Culture provides insight into how to be a person in the world what makes for a good life how to interact with others and which aspects of situations require more attention and processing capacity' (Gibson et al. 2009); culture is the source of scripts for social interaction [that] implicitly guide everyday behaviour'. Individuals with shared cultural memberships are likely courtesy of their shared norms values and socialization experiencesto hold a common understanding and set of expectations about what is required to establish and maintain a trusting relationship.

Developing and maintaining trust between different cultures' is a formidable challenge. the globalized' nature of work is rendering national cultural boundaries somewhat fuzzy' (Doney et al. 1998) the influence of national cultural traits and norms on people's perceptions beliefs values and behaviours endures and remains particularly problematic for trust building (Johnson and Cullen 2002). Mergers strategic alliances joint ventures and outsourcing arrangements bring people together from different organizational cultures (Maguire and Phillips 2008)

Many scholars agree that a society's culture especially individualist/collectivist orientations has had effect on the level of organizational trust " high in collectivist and low in individualist societies. A common theme is that because the collectivists have a more interdependent worldview they place more importance on relationships and nurture them with more care than the individualists (Triandis 1989). Individualism implies a loosely knit social framework in which people are supposed to take care of themselves and their immediate families only while collectivism is characterized by a tight social framework in which people distinguish between in-groups and out-groups; they expect their in-groups to look after them and in exchange for that they feel they owe absolute loyalty to it. Collectivists view their individual actions as an important contribution to their group's wellbeing and they gain satisfaction and feelings of accomplishment from group outcomes.

Collectivists tend to share common goals and have stronger group identity more group accountability more communication and a more egalitarian reward system. Regardless of whether directly or through the mediation of mechanisms culture is posited to have a deterministic effect on fostering trust.

Hence it can be concluded that culture has had effects on the level of organizational trusts with certain qualifications. Organizations in collectivist cultures have members who demonstrate high level of trust toward one another but the external trust tends to be low because of the in-group bias. On the contrary in individualist societies the chances of developing trusting relationships with outsiders are more promising because of their low in-group bias. Leaders have a role in articulating common purpose and fostering a shared identity; their power and influence may overcome cultural differences or compel their resolution.

In sum trust may emerge from: 1) recognition and promotion of shared cultural identities (i.e. coming from the same culture); 2) an alignment of tiles and identities (i.e. having compatible yet different tiles); 3) one party's acceptance of and possibly adaptation toward the other's dominant culture (i.e. a relationship based on one party's superior power); or 4) from the self-organizing' creation of a new shared cultural identity created by the parties for themselves.


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Author:Zia, Yorid Ahsan; Khan, M. Zeb
Publication:The Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Aug 31, 2014
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