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How does the strength of ties influence relationship quality in Chinese megaprojects? The mediating role of contractual flexibility

Zhibin Hu (School of Public Policy and Administration, Chongqing University, Chongqing, China)
Guangdong Wu (School of Public Policy and Administration, Chongqing University, Chongqing, China)
Xianbo Zhao (School of Engineering and Technology, Central Queensland University, Sydney, Australia)
Jian Zuo (School of Architecture and Built Environment, The University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia)
Shicong Wen (Department of Construction Management, Jiangxi University of Finance and Economics, Nanchang, China)

Baltic Journal of Management

ISSN: 1746-5265

Article publication date: 1 March 2021

Issue publication date: 20 May 2021




This study aims to explore the influence of the strength of ties (strong ties and weak ties) on contractual flexibility (term flexibility and process flexibility) and relationship quality among stakeholders in a megaproject network.


This study, via a questionnaire survey, collected 380 valid responses from megaproject professionals (including project managers, department managers and project engineers). The data were analyzed using least squares structural equation modeling.


The results show that both strong ties and weak ties have positive effects on relationship quality. The introduction of contractual flexibility can help improve relationship quality by combining the positive effects of the strength of ties. Interestingly, the indirect influence of strong ties on relationship quality is mainly due to term flexibility. However, the influence of process flexibility is not significant, while weak ties have an indirect influence through term flexibility and process flexibility.

Research limitations/implications

This study, while helpful to megaproject management both in theory and practice, is nevertheless subject to several limitations. First, this study only considers the impact of the strength of ties on contractual flexibility and relationship quality; other factors, such as environmental uncertainty, are not explored. Second, the sample data are limited to just a few regions of China. Future research should cover other influencing factors, in order to make the model more substantial; data should also be collected from different cultural and industrial sources, thereby extending and further verifying the results.


This study makes three contributions to extant megaproject literature. First, this study provides a deep and nuanced understanding of the strength of ties. With the distinction between strong ties and weak ties clearly explained, this research furnishes a subtler understanding of relationship governance than has previously been achieved. Second, by precisely identifying the mechanism of how contract flexibility improves contract control and coordination functions, this research offers a complementary view of how contractual flexibility positively contributes to cooperation and relationship quality. Third, this study identifies which dimension of the strength of ties is more influential. This brings a new explanation for the previous controversy and offers some insight into the determinants of how to improve relationship quality in Chinese megaprojects.



Funding: This study is supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos 71561009 and 71972018).


Hu, Z., Wu, G., Zhao, X., Zuo, J. and Wen, S. (2021), "How does the strength of ties influence relationship quality in Chinese megaprojects? The mediating role of contractual flexibility", Baltic Journal of Management, Vol. 16 No. 3, pp. 366-385.



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