Purpose: This paper aims to examine the non-linear aspects of the relationship between asymmetry and performance in supply chains (SCs), under varying intensities of collaboration and integration. Design/methodology/approach: The paper offers a useful new approach to designing strategic elements of supply chain management (SCM) relationships. Using the partial least squares method, an empirical study of 66 companies in Spain has been conducted to clarify contemporary relationships, suggest new directions and ultimately contribute toward developing SCM theory. Findings: The influences of asymmetry on performance in varying collaboration and integration contexts are shown to be unstable and have non-linear paths. It is inappropriate for all firms to collaborate or integrate continually, even for a prescribed period. Furthermore, due to asymmetry, SCM processes are more complex. Research limitations/implications: The results’ validity may be limited to contexts specific to Spanish SCs. It would be valuable to investigate the impact of asymmetry on firms’ performance and relationships in other markets. Practical implications: Collaborations and integration between partners in a SC might change the role of asymmetry from restraining to improving performance. The best way to improve performance in asymmetric relationships is to collaborate. Certain dimensions of integration and full integration are not necessarily required to improve firms’ performance under asymmetry conditions. Originality/value: The study adds a new viewpoint on SCM by suggesting that not all collaboration and integration developments lead directly to improved performance.