Divisive faultlines and the unplanned dissolutions of multipartner alliances.


Published: 19Sep2014

Authors: Heidl, Ralph, Steensma, H. Kevin & Phelps, Corey

Publication: Organization Science, 25 (5) (September-October, 2014): 1351-1371


Received wisdom suggests that multipartner alliances are relatively unstable because of their complexity and the increased potential for free riding. Nonetheless, multipartner alliances do benefit from built-in stabilizing third-party ties that mitigate opportunism and conflict between partner pairs. Previous empirical research on multipartner alliance stability has been inconclusive. We shed some light on these inconsistencies by recognizing that within multipartner alliances, schisms can occur not only between a pair of partners but also between subgroups of partners that are divided by faultlines. We suggest that divisive faultlines can form between subgroups of partners within a multipartner alliance as a function of their prior experience with one another. When a subgroup of alliance partners has relatively strong ties to each other and weak ties to other partners, destabilizing factions can develop that hamper reciprocity among the partners. Using a longitudinal analysis of 59 multipartner alliances, we found that, in general, faultlines (as modeled by the dispersion of tie strength within multipartner alliances) increase the hazard of unplanned dissolutions. We also found that multipartner alliances comprising a mix of centrally and peripherally positioned partners within the industry network were less apt to suffer the effects of divisive faultlines. We suggest that this is due to the greater opportunity costs of dissolution and the presence of relatively high-status partners who can act as peacekeepers and coordinators of their lower-status partners.