An investigation into brokered inter-organisational relationships within the supply chain
The concern of this thesis is to provide a comprehensive understanding of "the broking process" - the process by which a broker facilitates inter-organisational relationships. It is the product of the author's research into a programme to facilitate business networking that was in operation at several Business Links - the four research sites being at Bristol, St.Helens, Sunderland and Sheffield - and complementary personal action research on two network broking initiatives. The thesis begins by suggesting that the brokered network entity represents a form of postmodern organisation ideally suited to the globally competitive business realities of the Postmodern era due to its inherent flexibility of structure and purpose. It notes that within this "new competitive landscape" 1 collaborative inter-firm relationships are considered to provide a way of securing a "collaborative advantage" (Huxham 1996) that enables greater opportunities for process and product innovations - facilitating an organisation's capability to learn and its responsiveness to changing circumstances. As the management of inter-firm relationships is argued to be critical to the organisational competitiveness of the supply chain this research is seen as having relevance to all organisations. A review of the literature on networks highlights the significance of others' research findings to this study as well as directing attention to the social aspects of relationship and the important issue of 'trust' in the facilitation process - the 'glue' that enables progress in the development of relationships. Having established a context for the research the thesis then proceeds to describe the research approach adopted, the research process, the case studies produced and the initial sensemaking of the research 'findings'. A hen-neneutic perspective recognising participants' sensemaking of activities as 'interpreted' and only 'meaningful' within the context of a system was adopted throughout the research process. Each of the case studies resulting from the research highlights a separate issue of concern to brokers within their broking practice and provides insights into their conceptions of the broking process - an empathetic understanding grounded in experience was gained by the author as a consequence of personal action research in two broking initiatives. Consideration of these issues results in the identification of the four themes of governance, identity, learning and time-dependency that provide `themed lenses' for a reflective review of the research findings and the development of a conceptual framework that enables a comprehensive understanding of the broking process. Each of the themes is explored in the following chapters. The effective governance of the broking process is argued to depend upon the broker's ability in managing the mobilisation of the network's resources and in 'managing the meaning' attributed to network development by its membership - the former facilitating effective operation, the latter facilitating members' commitment. Effectiveness in the development of the network's identity and the memberships' identification with the network is argued to depend upon the broker's ability to determine appropriate stakeholder definitions that meet the needs of the network and to provide 'a vision' of network purpose and possible development that's attractive to its members. The effectiveness of the learning that occurs within the broking process is argued to depend upon the broker's ability to facilitate members in the development of a collaborative mindset and in accepting the necessity of 'learning through doing' as a practical response to inherent dynamism within the brokered network form as well as that within its markets. Time-dependency dictates the effectiveness of the network's activities (ie. members' activities) and is argued to depend upon the broker's ability to create and sustain momentum as well as their willingness to satisfice. Each of these 'lenses' results in new insights into the broking process and working definitions of each theme. In the concluding chapter these insights and definitions are brought together to form a comprehensive working definition of the broking process and to establish the foundations for a theoretical framework that enables a comprehensive understanding of the broking process. 1a phrase coined by Bettis & Hitt (1995) to signify the dawn of Postmodern business realities.