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Paper info: The complexity of power relationships within a network


The complexity of power relationships within a network


Judy Zolkiewski
Manchester Business School
United Kingdom
Judy Zolkiewski

Place of Publication

The paper was published at the 17th IMP-conference in Oslo, Norway in 2001.


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There is a strong tradition of interaction, relationship and network research in theindustrial and manufacturing areas of business-to-business markets (Håkansson, 1982,Turnbull and Valla, 1986, Dwyer, Schurr and Oh, 1987, Ford, 1990, 1997, Håkanssonand Snehota, 1995). It is accepted that investigation of service business-to-businessmarkets is relatively underdeveloped (although there are notable exceptions such as:Yorke, 1990, Halinen, 1994 and Tyler, 1997).In order to develop theory in the area of service business markets, the networks ofbuyer-seller relationships that exist in a service business-to-business environmentwere investigated by the researcher. Three, in-depth case studies were undertaken inthe UK National Health Service (NHS). In these case studies the complex sets ofrelationships between the purchasers and providers of community health care (thisincludes health visiting, district nursing and therapies such as chiropody andphysiotherapy) were investigated.This paper reports our findings about how a complex set of power interactionsrevealed themselves in the context of a network situation. The concept of power innetworks has already been discussed by authors such as Thorelli (1986) and Axelsson(1992). However, our findings suggest that there were different levels of powerwithin the network and hence we propose a new model for analyzing power in anetwork situation. This model shows how levels of power within a network can bedescribed in terms of a pyramid which comprises: personal power (internal),organizational power (organizational) and indirect power (network).These findings suggest that managers need to be aware of the different levels of powerand how they affect decisions to allocate and/or control resources such as finance,people, materials, expertise and knowledge. They also suggest that managing indirectpower flows, i.e. the ability to influence the network, media or political action is animportant management task.These research findings and associated theoretical developments are importantbecause it opens up a number of areas for further research. For instance, are thesefindings specific to the NHS? Or can they be applied more widely, in service orindustrial markets? Additionally, the model requires further development in areassuch as whether the different levels of power have equal weightings.