Helpful behavior and the durability of collaborative ties

Organization Science

(with Sampsa Samila and Alexander Oettl)

Long-term collaborations are crucial in many creative domains. Although there is ample research on why people collaborate, our knowledge about what drives some collaborations to persist and others to decay is still emerging. In this paper, we extend theory on third-party effects and collaborative persistence to study this question. We specifically consider the role that a third party’s helpful behavior plays in shaping tie durability. We propose that when third parties facilitate helpfulness among their group, the collaboration is stronger, and it persists even in the third’s absence. In contrast, collaborations with third parties that are nonhelpful are unstable and dissolve in their absence. We use a unique data set comprising scientific collaborations among pairs of research immunologists who lost a third coauthor to unexpected death. Using this quasi-random loss as a source of exogenous variation, we separately identify the effect of third parties’ traditional role as an active agent of collaborative stability and the enduring effect of their helpful behavior—as measured by acknowledgments—on the persistence of the remaining authors’ collaboration. We find support for our hypotheses and find evidence that one mechanism driving our effect is that helpful thirds make their coauthors more helpful.