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Paper info: An Examination of Relationship Ending Theory in the Context of Cross Sector Partnering


An Examination of Relationship Ending Theory in the Context of Cross Sector Partnering


Annmarie Ryan and
Jaana Tähtinen
University of Oulu
Jaana Tähtinen

Place of Publication

The paper was published at the 27th IMP-conference in Glasgow, Scotland in 2011.


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Purpose of the paper and literature addressed: Cross sector arrangements between private, public and civil society are emerging in importance. Drivers for this include a) the intractable nature of social and environment problems calls for sectors to work more closely and b) increasing pressure for corporations to respond to their social and environmental responsibilities. While research in this area continues to progress, very little attention has been given to the ending of such arrangements. The study of relationship ending is important within cross-sector partnership research. Firstly, the differences between parties means that they will be perhaps more susceptible to failure. Second, such relationships come in different forms therefore will experience different kinds of endings. Thirdly, the nature of these relationships means that they have a high capacity for rich social interaction. For example the causes or issues addressed in the partnership can revolve around quite sensitive social, moral or environmental issues. This means there is a potential for what Ryan and Blois, (2010) term Relationship Identification. This suggests that boundary spanners can become emotionally and socially attached to such arrangements, which can have an effect during relationship ending. The aim of this paper is to extend and refine existing theory in relationship ending, particularly the models proposed by Halinen and Tähtinen (2002) and Tähtinen (2002) in the context of cross sector partnering arrangements. In doing so we hope to expand current knowledge on cross sector partnership development and ending. Moreover, we aim to extend existing theory on relationship ending by confronting it with any deviations found in this context and adapting accordingly.
Research method: The paper uses a case study methodology to extend and refine Halinen and Tähtinen‟s (2002) and Tähtinen (2002) relationship ending process models. Data from a longitudinal case study between an arts organisation and a multinational organisation is analysed using these models, taking a largely deductive approach. Subsequently the analysis uses a more inductive approach to explore the causal mechanisms for deviations found from the source models. This then allows us to move beyond the specifics of the case to contribute to knowledge on business relationships and cross sector partnerships in particular.
Research findings & Main contribution: In confronting the theory with a) a rich empirical case and b) a new empirical setting, we have advanced our understanding of relationship ending, shedding light on new areas heretofore obscured. In particular we have identified the concept of contemporaneous sense making, where boundary spanners, exposed to enough information and detail, can forecast relationship ending and thereby effect how their organisation responds. Moreover, we have advanced our understanding of the social and emotional dimensions of relationship ending (thus advancing the work of Ryan and Blois, (2010)) to consider a) transition management strategies and b) the role of communitas in both relationship development and ending.
Keywords: relationship development and ending, cross-sector partnering, transition management, communitas