Reorienting and recalibrating inter-organizational relationships: Strategies for achieving Optimal Trust

Merieke Stevens, JP MacDuffie, S Helper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

64 Citations (Scopus)
18 Downloads (Pure)


Drawing upon longitudinal, dyadic, comparative case-based research, we analyze the pursuit of optimal trust, i.e. trust that is neither excessive nor insufficient, by introducing the concepts of reorientation and recalibration. First, we show that large deviations from optimal trust are best addressed by reorientation which deals with both too much as well as too little trust. Reorientation processes include substantial efforts to change parties’ attributions of the intentions underlying past behavior, to reestablish social equilibrium among the parties, and to make structural changes via adjustments to goals and incentives. Reorientation is necessary when imbalance occurs in the powerful and opposed forces associated with excessive trust (faith, favoritism, contentment, loyalty) vs insufficient trust (skepticism, impartiality, exigency, opportunism). Second, we demonstrate that there is an effective path to maintaining optimal trust via practices we call recalibration, wherein small deviations are addressed before damage to trust occurs. Recalibration maintains inter-organizational trust near its optimum through processes that proactively balance the opposed forces. Large deviations from optimal trust in either direction can unleash destabilizing dynamics, requiring significant reorientation efforts to offset. Recalibration processes are then essential for preserving the effects of successful reorientation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1237-1264
Number of pages28
JournalOrganization Studies
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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