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The complexity of collaboration in supply chain networks

Yuan Huang (Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK)
Weixi Han (Nottingham Business School, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK)
Douglas K. Macbeth (School of Management, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK)

Supply Chain Management

ISSN: 1359-8546

Article publication date: 21 January 2020

Issue publication date: 8 April 2020




This paper aims to investigate the complexity of collaborations in supply chain networks, particularly the influence of horizontal collaborations (e.g. international joint ventures) on vertical collaborations (e.g. supplier–manufacturer partnering relationships).


A multiple case study including four horizontal collaborations and five vertical collaborations within a supply chain network is presented in the context of the Chinese automotive industry. Data interpretation from interviews is structured by key collaborative activities and collaborative behaviors.


The analysis highlights a variety of collaborative behaviors under different types of collaboration and their interaction. The complexity of collaboration is revealed in a range of dimensions including culture diversity, drivers/facilitators, competitive/collaborative advantages and the engagement of all. Collaboration evolves as the structure of the supply chain changes; the key is to appreciate the existence of cooperation, competition and culture conflicts and to manage the trade-offs.

Research limitations/implications

A window of opportunity is presented for future research to investigate the complexity of supply chain collaboration in a wider industrial or geographical context, including statistical validation and comparative analysis.

Practical implications

A contingent view on supply chain collaboration is promoted to practitioners (e.g. international supply chain managers), where collaborative activities should be aligned with the motive and type of business relationships which may change as collaboration develops.


A rare empirical study captures the complexity of supply chain collaboration including the interaction between different forms. A dynamic collaboration approach recognizes the changing process, varying cooperation behaviors as well as characteristics of partners which have not been sufficiently reflected in the literature.



Huang, Y., Han, W. and Macbeth, D.K. (2020), "The complexity of collaboration in supply chain networks", Supply Chain Management, Vol. 25 No. 3, pp. 393-410.



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Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited

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