Based on longitudinal case study research amongst ancillary staff in two health service trusts in the same region, this article analyses the strategies that management and trade unions adopted in their approach towards workplace social partnership. The article highlights the differentiated principles, practices and outcomes of partnership in the two trusts, by initially drawing on the “deliberate” and “emergent” strategy spectrum of Mintzberg and Waters. Whilst “deliberate” strategy focuses on direction and control, “emergent” strategy suggests a learning process in the search for effective patterns of behaviour and decision making outcomes. However, departing from the essentially managerialist underpinnings of the conceptualisation, the article seeks to understand how organised labour interacts with management in the creation and development of strategy in both ideal type scenarios. In this respect, the article utilises the “theory of the firm”, in particular, transaction cost analysis and the resource based view of the organisation, to aid our understanding of this complex process.
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