A managerial perspective on small-firm network organizations : an overview of the field and a study of practice
Abstract: This thesis presents an explorative and descriptive study aimed at generating knowledge on small-firm network organizations, especially on the managerial aspects of these network organizations, the motives or expected benefits of participation in such networks, the management, and the development of these small-firm network organizations over time. The theoretical overview within this thesis briefly describes the way the network approach has been used in different disciplines, as well as the different theoretical approaches used in explaining this phenomenon in the network literature. The theoretical frame of reference provides an overview of key concepts and managerial aspects of network organizations that can be applied to small-firm network organizations. As this study is aimed at exploring and describing small-firm network organizations, a case study approach has been adopted in order to gain empirical data of a qualitative nature from a real-life context, mainly in the form of three small-firm network organizations in northern Sweden. The empirical evidence from this study reveals that the investigated small- firm network organizations have different types of organizational structures, spanning from decentralized to centralized structures. The empirical evidence has revealed at least two different managerial structures of small-firm network organizations: the broker and the coordination unit. In the case of both managerial structures, "trust" is an important governing mechanism that has its own specific logic. This thesis has also pointed towards the importance for network managers to consider the motives of the firm owners and the firms. One of the more important managerial aspects of small-firm network organizations, which give a dynamic perspective on this phenomenon, is the development of small-firm network organizations over time. The empirical evidence illustrates that the investigated small-firm network organizations follow different trajectories, and that there are at least three possible trajectories for small-firm network organizations to follow: growth, stability, and/or decline. The network literature also gives several illustrations of network organizations with distinct development phases, and in recognizing this, the investigated small-firm network organizations could also be interpreted as having different phases within a development path. As a consequence of this, the managerial tasks can also be interpreted as changing over time, and seem to be differ, depending on which development phase the network organization is in. This thesis recognizes that there is a need to take the research from an explorative and descriptive level to a level at which more emphasis is placed on developing theories (future research), and building models and tools that can be used by practitioners (whether they are firm owners, other managers, brokers, or consultants).
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