Breakups Are Not Just Courtships in Reverse
My first faculty position was at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. Coming from an Asian family of engineers, MIT was a hallowed institution. I like to joke that I was never smart enough to be admitted to MIT, so I became a faculty member instead! Many companies who sponsored faculty research through the school’s various research centers were particularly interested in how to achieve partnering success. I remember proposing to companies that research was needed to understand relationship failures because dissolving or breaking down a business relationship is not simply the reverse process of building one up. It takes two to build a partnership, which is a highly visible and celebratory endeavor. Firms love to announce the formation of a new partnership and much ado is made. But it only takes one partner, in quiet resentment or regular opportunism, to poison a relationship and kill it over time. It takes two to marry, but only one to file for divorce. Failure is not just the reverse of success. Successful partnering is a constantly moving target, and there are many ways to fail.
- To understand how partnerships dissolve, then, is a fundamentally different thing from understanding how to build one.
To understand how partnerships dissolve, then, is a fundamentally different thing from understanding how to build one. In my view, this is exactly why it should be studied more. The firms I pitched would only sponsor research on building successful collaboration. So I did that, but I never stopped looking for answers about organizational dissolution. My survey instruments measured factors for success, but they also explored actions and attitudes that could facilitate dissolution. The next several chapters share some of my key findings from this research. The great privilege of academic freedom is that faculty are not restricted to studying what the marketplace deems important (though it may be more financially rewarding to do so). MIT and Emory University gave me the time and resources to pursue these questions. Let’s take a look at some of the answers.