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Paper info: Re-organising relationship interaction by stabilising a new interaction form


Re-organising relationship interaction by stabilising a new interaction form


Debbie Harrison
Norwegian School of Management
Debbie Harrison and
Fahad Awaleh
University College of Southeast Norway
Fahad Awaleh

Place of Publication

The paper was published at the 25th IMP-conference in Marseille, France in 2009.


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 Interaction within relationships is central to the rhetoric of the IMP tradition. Yet the empirical observation which led to the well-known Interaction Model (Håkansson 1982) - that companies have long term, stable relationships - is hardly new. More recent work has called for a re-examination of the interaction approach in light of changed business conditions (Leek et al 2003; Ford 1998; Valla and Salle 1997) and indeed the trend in general business marketing literature and within IMP is to investigate the dynamics of relationships and networks (Narayandas and Rangan 2004; Johnston et al 2006; Schurr 2007; Geersbro and Ritter 2007). In terms of relationship dynamics, the few conceptual studies available centre upon investigating types of interaction episodes and their link to relationship development (Schurr 2007), e.g. through mapping and analysing patterns of episodes (Schurr et al 2008), and by investigating individual action in relationship development processes (Mainela and Tähtinen 2007), while empirical work centres upon relationship dissolution and to a lesser extent, the initiation of relationships (Tahtinen 2002). In this paper we investigate how two firms try to re-organise their relationship interaction processes by introducing and stabilising a new form of interaction over multiple episodes. We follow the interactions at multiple levels of the dyad, along with the factors/conditions that support and constrain the focal firms in their efforts. The case study underpinning the paper is based on multiple, sequential episodes within the ongoing relationshipbetween a product-developer Scranton and sub-contractor JP within the Scandinavian Electronics Industry. The empirical data was collected between August 2002 and February 2006 in the form of 72 interviews, observations of 17 meetings and secondary data. We first consider the conditions that resulted in the firms becoming dissatisfied with their current form of interaction in the ongoing relationship. A relationship project group was established in order to discuss and design a new form of interaction. Simultaneously, the two companies continued their regular patterns of exchange. Both took place across a time period of four years. It was an ongoing struggle to stabilise a change in the interaction form, not least because multiple parts of the relationship would be affected. There was substantial inconsistency between the ongoing relationship and the changes the relationship project group was attempting. Features such as 'forum for negotiation and information sharing with corporate management' supported the focal firms in their efforts, while constrains included 'incompatibility of current relationship infrastructure'.  Overall, the main way in which the new form was stabilised was to formalise this into a series of roles and procedures near the end of the lifespan of the relationship project group. In sum, in this paper we aim to contribute to the growing literature in business marketing and IMP regarding the dynamics of relationships.