Nets represent forms of inter-organizational collaboration in networks in which actors can pursue complex objectives beyond their individual resources or abilities. Firms seeking to effectively form and manage nets face challenges in understanding how to strategically influence others and recognizing facilitative dynamic capabilities. To address these challenges, this research examines the way strategies are implemented at different net levels, distinguishing between supply chain and industry nets. This is explored through an empirical case study focusing on the integration of Indigenous contracting into the Western Australian mining industry. A theoretical framework is developed outlining the relevant capabilities utilized by actors across net formation and management stages. This offers an explicit understanding of how actors shift from direct to more subtle forms of influence and effectively ‘co-orchestrate’ nets with competitors.
While individual firms may struggle to exert influence at a broad network level (Ford & Mouzas, 2013), this becomes a possibility through multi-actor coordination and strategic determinism occurring at more narrowly-defined levels in supply chains, strategic alliances or nets. Nets allow researchers to examine strategies and capabilities for influencing ‘in networks’ given the theoretical contention around actors' ability to ‘orchestrate’ by purposefully forming and managing nets (Dyer & Singh, 1998; Gadde, Huemer, & Håkansson, 2003). This relates to the conceptual premise of nets, whereby distinct groups of actors coordinate contributions to collective goals (Möller & Svahn, 2003). Such a degree of actor determinism does not align with perspectives of networks as emergent, self-organizing systems, whereby high levels of network control may restrict innovation and represent inefficient use of resources (Håkansson & Ford, 2002). Exploring an actor's ability to ‘manage’ others at different network levels considers how organizational strategies and influence are applied in collaborative forms, such as nets, and serves to understand their architecture (Aarikka-Stenroos, Sandberg & Lehtimaki, 2014; Patala, Hämäläinen, Jalkala, & Pesonen, 2014; Håkansson & Ford, 2002). While the net concept has previously been applied to a number of value creating and problem solving goals, few studies have considered the relevant capabilities to form or manage nets and even fewer have explored this empirically (Möller, Rajala, & Svahn, 2005). By identifying the sets of dynamic networking capabilities utilized by net actors (Mitrega, Forkmann, Zaefarian & Henneberg, 2016), we can develop a clearer understanding of the strategic utility of nets and how relationships are influenced to pursue collective objectives (Forkmann, Henneberg, Naudé, & Mitrega, 2016; Svahn & Westerlund, 2007). The net concept applies to a wider variety of collective B-to-B issues than currently considered; however enhancing theoretical and managerial relevance requires greater appreciation for the underlying dynamic capabilities associated with firm-level behaviors and how these are understood within the broader network context (Baraldi, Brennan, Harrison, Tunisini, & Zolkiewski, 2007). This paper addresses two important gaps relating to our understanding of nets and dynamic capabilities. Our first research problem centers upon exploring how actors strategically influence others through nets, given the tensions inherent in control within embedded networks. This research contributes to this gap by distinguishing between strategies implemented at the formation and management stages of nets within supply chain and industry levels. Our second research problem is concerned with identifying key actors' dynamic capabilities at these distinct stages in order to achieve strategic objectives. In addressing this aim, we contribute a theoretical framework outlining relevant capabilities for net formation and management, based on empirical findings from a multi-organizational industry case.