From Building and Preserving to Eroding Trust: A Multi-level Analysis

Noelia Sarah Reynolds, Michel W. Lander*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Trust is imperative for the successful navigation of strategic change initiatives. So, we ask ourselves the question: How do perceptions of organizational trust (composed of institutional and interpersonal trust) develop over time and what are their interactions during strategic change? We answer this question through a real-time ethnographic analysis of a merger process focusing specifically on trust at multiple levels, between employees, middle and top management and how it interacts with the trust these individuals have in the informal and formal processes of the organization. We unearthed three key processes in the dynamic interplay between levels and types of trust. (Dis)trust obfuscation allowed top management to overcome negative perceptions of employees by foregrounding one figurehead with whom employees build trust whilst backgrounding the other members. Multi-level mirroring in which middle management mirrored the content and emotionality of the communication of top management amplified trust building. Third, integrative elaboration whereby middle management actively helped employees to stay the course whilst top management withdrew from actively engaging with employees. These processes resulted in the trust dynamics to go from building with employees and preserving with middle management to preservation and finally trust erosion. Our findings contribute to the study of trust as a multi-level phenomenon as well as understanding trust dynamics at multiple levels.

Original languageEnglish
JournalGroup and Organization Management
Early online date22 Jul 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 22 Jul 2023

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© The Author(s) 2023.


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