In order to create sustainable competitive advantages, organizations are embedded in dyadic exchange relationships, which depend on the coordination of the behavior of the actors involved. Often, coordinated behavior is explained by trust. Since trust develops in a process of reciprocal responses to presumed trustworthy behavior, it is a reciprocity-based concept. While inter-organizational exchange relationships can appear in different stages (forming, establishing, broken), different reciprocity types (direct, indirect, negative) can be distinguished. The study links reciprocal behavior to different stages of inter-organizational exchange relationships in order to investigate reciprocity as a possible coordination mechanism of behavior and thus explore the basis of coordination of trust-based behavior. Qualitative Comparative Analysis as a set-theoretic approach is applied to analyze the empirical data consisting of 78 qualitative semi-structured interviews with managers of small-, medium- and large-sized companies. The results show that different reciprocity types become effective in different stages of an inter-organizational exchange relationship: For forming inter-organizational exchange relationships indirect reciprocal behavior, besides direct reciprocity, becomes effective while in establishing inter-organizational exchange relationships, direct reciprocal behavior is evident. Negative reciprocal behavior leads to a break up of relationships. Using these results, on the one hand, the concept of trust can be sharpened by deepening the understanding of the trust-building mechanisms and on the other hand, reciprocity can be seen as coordination mechanism in exchange relationships of different stages. In doing so, with this knowledge, relationships can be coordinated towards a long-term orientation in order to create sustainable advantages.
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