Sub-theme 46: Multi-level Approaches to Temporary Inter-organizing

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Alfons van Marrewijk
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Vedran Zerjav
University College London, United Kingdom
Jennifer Whyte
Imperial College London, United Kingdom

Call for Papers

Over the past decade there has been a growing interest in the theorization and research of temporary organizations (Bakker et al., 2016; Burke & Morely, 2016), developing in parallel with the growing recognition of temporary organizing forms (Jensen et al., 2016). One of the key challenges and opportunities in this field is the study of temporary organizing in an inter-organizational context (Sydow & Braun, 2018). Inter-organizational projects are configured between multiple parent organizations containing multiple interfaces (Jones & Lichtenstein, 2008). And when the project terminates, the network structure of the parents’ organizations remains (Burke & Morely, 2016). Sydow and Braun (2018) distinguish four distinct features of this kind of temporary organizing; the bridging of inter-organizational relations, the disordering of hierarchies in inter-organizational teams, the blurring of organizational boundaries and the reframing of individual behaviour. Not surprisingly, organizations in such projects face tensions of temporal misfit (Dille & Söderlund, 2011) to which divers temporal boundary spanning practices are needed (Stjerne et al., 2018). Temporary organizing in an inter-organizational context is thus characterized by differences in temporalities (Stjerne et al., 2018), organizational identities (Beech & Huxham, 2003), national cultures (Brannen & Salk, 2000), and by absence of a clear hierarchical structure among the partners (Jones & Lichtenstein, 2008).
Given these characteristics questions arise about how to theorize the relations, transitions (Zerjav et al., 2018) and disjunctures between temporary and multiple permanent organizations (Bakker et al., 2016; Jones & Lichtenstein, 2008); between different forms of organizing that are more or less temporary (Brookes, 2017); and between the different temporalities that come into contact (Stjerne et al., 2018).
For a long time, research on inter-organizational projects has been rather static, understanding these temporary forms of organizing as homogeneous entities (Sydow & Braun, 2018). And thus turning a blind eye to process, subcultures, power dynamics and other phenomena that occur and are experienced at a variety of analytical levels. As a result, a deeper theoretical and empirical understanding of temporary forms of inter-organizing is needed (Bakker et al., 2016; Burke & Morely, 2016; Sydow & Braun, 2018; van Marrewijk et al., 2016). Especially a multi-level understanding of inter-organizational projects related to more permanent forms of organizing is underdeveloped (Sydow & Braun, 2018). Burke & Morely (2016) note that little is known about how temporary and permanent structures and processes are integrated or bound. A rich understanding of temporary multi-organizational forms and settings would, in turn, lead to principles translatable and generalizable to organizational forms that management and organizational literature has identified as prominent, yet poorly understood “meta-organizations” (Gulati et al., 2012).
In order to provide a more nuanced understanding of the multiple phenomena and issues associated with temporary inter-organizing, we draw on multilevel research approach. While it was once a neglected area of enquiry (Hitt et al., 2007) it has now become substantially more prominent in (project) management and organization research, however with its own pitfalls (Paruchuri et al., 2018). Mathieu and Chen (2011) show how multilevel paradigm has been well entrenched in modern management research over the last 25 years. The central feature of the multilevel paradigm is the thinking that organizational entities reside in nested arrangements (Mathieu & Chen, 2011) such as individual, project team, organization and institutional context. Multilevel theorizing involves the identifying and explaining how factors at different levels affect the temporary organizing at a particular level (Mathieu & Chen, 2011).
Acknowledging the multilevel aspects of inter-organizing have been either poorly understood or even entirely neglected, we welcome contributions of theoretical, methodological or empirical nature. The contributions should broadly follow the tradition of multilevel theorizing and include complex organizational phenomena such as culture, power, identity, value, institutional work, to name a few. Similarly, a broad variety of methodological approaches (e.g., process and practice approaches, ethnography, single and multiple case studies, historical and discursive approaches) and empirical contexts (different instantiations of multiple entities organizing for a common goal) is encouraged.
The following issues illustrate potential areas of interest, but offer only a starting point, as we welcome creativity in topic, theory and method:

  • Inter-organizational collaboration in temporary organizations

  • Closure of temporary organizations and transition to permanent organizations

  • Accomplishing innovations through inter-organizational temporary organizing

  • Dealing with tensions between the inherent temporariness of projects and the intended permanence of project outcomes in permanent organizations

  • Inter-organizational temporary spaces for experimenting with innovative collaborative behaviour

  • The role of inter-organizational temporary organizing for inducing multilevel change

  • Power and multi-level analyses of inter-organizational temporary projects

  • Inter-organizational temporary projects as arenas for institutional conflict and transition

  • The autonomous spaces of inter-organizational temporary projects

  • Embeddedness of projects in more permanent structures and institutional conditions and their potential interplay



  • Bakker, R.M., DeFillipi, R., & Sydow, J. (2016): “Temporary organizing: Promises, processes, problems.” Organization Studies, 37 (12), 1703–1719.
  • Beech, N., & Huxham, C. (2003): “Cycles of identity formation in interorganizational collaborations.” International Studies of Management & Organization, 33 (3), 28–52.
  • Brannen, J.V., & Salk, J.E. (2000): “Partnering across borders: Negotiating organizational culture in a German-Japan joint venture.” Human Relations, 53 (4), 451–487.
  • Brookes, N. (2017): “An island of constancy in a sea of change: Rethinking project temporalities with long-term megaprojects.” International Journal of Project Management, 35 (7), 1213–1224.
  • Burke, C.M., & Morely M.J. (2016): “On temporary organizations: A review, synthesis and research agenda.” Human Relation, 69 (6), 1235–1258
  • Dille, T., & Söderlund, J. (2011): “Managing inter-institutional projects: The significance of isochronism, timing norms and temporal misfits.” International Journal of Project Management, 29 (4), 480–490.
  • Gulati, R., Puranam, P., & Tushman, M. (2012): “Meta‐organization design: Rethinking design in interorganizational and community contexts.” Strategic Management Journal, 33 (6), 571–586.
  • Hitt, M.A., Beamish, P.W., Jackson, S.E., & Mathieu, J.E.(2007): “Building theoretical and empirical bridges across levels: Multilevel research in management.” Academy of Management Journal, 50 (6), 1385–1399.
  • Jensen, A., Thuesen, C., & Geraldi, J. (2016): “The projectification of everything: Projects as a human condition.” Project Management Journal, 47 (3), 21–34.
  • Jones, C., & Lichtenstein, B. (2008): “Temporary inter-organizational projects: How temporal and social embeddedness enhance coordinatioin and manage uncertainity.” In: S. Cropper, C. Huxham, M. Ebers & P. Smith Ring (eds.): The Oxford Handbook of Inter-Organizational Relations. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 231–255.
  • Mathieu, J.E., & Chen, G. (2011): “The etiology of the multilevel paradigm in management research.” Journal of Management, 37 (2), 610–641.
  • Paruchuri, S., Perry-Smith, J.E., Chattopadhyay, P., & Shaw, J.D. (2018): “New ways of seeing: Pitfalls and opportunities in multilevel research.” Academy of Management Journal, 61 (3), 797–801.
  • Stjerne, I.S., Söderlund, J., & Minbaeva, D. (2018): “Crossing times: Temporal boundary-spanning practices in interorganizational projects.” International Journal of Project Management, 37 (2), 347–365.
  • Sydow, J., & Braun, T. (2018): “Projects as temporary organizations: An agenda for further theorizing the interorganizational dimension.” International Journal of Project Management, 36 (1), 4–11.
  • van Marrewijk, A.H., Ybema, S., Smits K., Clegg, S., & Pitsis, T. (2016): “Clash of the Titans: Temporal organizing and collaborative dynamics in the Panama Canal Megaproject.” Organization Studies, 37 (12), 1745–1769.
  • Zerjav, V., Edkins, A., & Davies, A. (2018): “Project capabilities for operational outcomes in inter-organisational settings: The case of London Heathrow terminal 2.” International Journal of Project Management, 36 (3), 444–459.
Alfons van Marrewijk is a part-time Full Professor of Construction Cultures at the Department of Management, Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands; Adjunct Professor of Project Management at the Norwegian Business School in Oslo, Norway; and Associate Professor at the Department Organization Sciences, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands. In his academic work Alfons uses anthropological theories and methods for studying inter-organizational collaboration and cultural change in technically oriented organizations and complex mega-projects.
Vedran Zerjav is an Associate Professor at the Bartlett, University College London, United Kingdom. He is an impact-driven researcher of project-based organizational forms and the empirical setting of the delivery of urban infrastructure and technologies. Vedran’s recent publications are on project capabilities and project driven organizational value.
Jennifer Whyte is a Professor at Imperial College London, United Kingdom. She recently published on transitions and temporality and leads research on the digital delivery of infrastructure megaprojects. Jennifer is a member of the UK’s Construction Leadership Council and holds the Royal Academy of Engineering and Laing O’Rourke Chair in Systems Integration.
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