Cutting the Cord: Mutual Respect, Organizational Autonomy, and Independence in Organizational Separation Processes

Published: 4 June 2018

Authors: Rene Wiedner and Saku Mantere

Publication: Administrative Science Quarterly, Forthcoming


Based on a longitudinal, qualitative analysis of developments in the English National Health Service, we develop a process model of how organizations divest or spin off units with the aim of establishing two or more autonomous organizational entities while simultaneously managing their continued interdependencies. We find that effective organizational separation depends on generating two types of respect—appraisal and recognition respect—between the divesting and divested units. Appraisal respect involves showing appreciation for competence or the effort to achieve it, while recognition respect requires considering what someone cares about—such as values or concerns—and acknowledging that they matter. The process model we develop shows that open communication is crucial to the development of both. We also find that certain attempts to gain organizational independence and respect may unintentionally undermine the development of autonomy. Counterintuitively, we find that increasing or maintaining interorganizational links via communication may facilitate organizational separation, while attempts by units to distance themselves from one another may unintentionally inhibit it. By linking organizational separation, autonomy, independence, and respect, this paper develops theory on organizational separation processes and more generally enhances our understanding of organizational autonomy and its relations with mutual respect.

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