Sub-theme 58: Projects, Organizations and Institutions

Jörg Sydow
Freie Universität Berlin, Germany
Candace Jones
University of Edinburgh Business School, United Kingdom
Jonas Søderlund
BI Norway & Linköping University, Sweden

Call for Papers

Projects – like other forms of temporary organizations – are characterized by intentionally finite time frames that enable firms and other individual or corporate actors to organize in a flexible and ad-hoc manner (Sydow et al., 2004; Jones & Lichtenstein, 2008; Kenis et al., 2009; Bakker et al., 2016). Despite increased research interest by organization theorists (Bakker, 2010), our progress toward understanding the embeddedness of projects into organizational or wider institutional contexts is still limited. Frequently, projects are viewed as separated islands with little interaction with their environment. This still is a major weakness of current theorizing. Today, we find projects in a wide range of settings that are implemented in strongly institutionalized settings with regulatory frameworks and professional norms such as construction projects with distinct state regulatory codes for buildings and professionals, as well as collaboration among diverse professions with varying professional norms. The institutionalized setting both facilitates and hinders the progress of the project. Highlighting the intersection between projects and institutions is particularly important given the role projects play in creating cross-organizational and cross-institutional collaboration.
Projects are usually organized and run by formal organizations. No matter whether these are project-supported or project-based (Hobday, 2000; Lundin et al., 2015), the temporary system is not only embedded in the respective permanent organization and networks but also in wider institutional fields. In face of the importance of project activity some of these fields may even amount to project ecologies (Grabher, 2002). But which institutional fields influence single projects, project portfolios or project networks – and how? In turn, there are institutional projects which help to address either the stabilization or change of the institutional environment. As such, they can be considered as being vehicles for institutional entrepreneurship or arenas for institutional work (Lawrence & Suddaby, 2006). But how exactly are projects used in these processes – and what determines their success?
Because of the relatedness of projects and institutions, institutional theory may be an appropriate lens to study projects inside and outside organizations. So far, limited use has been made of this theory that has come to dominate organization studies (e.g. Dille & Söderlund, 2011; Scott et al., 2011). What is the value of institutional analyses of projects as the most popular form of temporary organizing? How do they capture the influence of institutions on projects and of projects on institutions? And how might projects influence institutions as carriers that diffuse norms, standards and practices across project participants? What other theories might be needed to improve our understanding of the relationship between projects, organizations, and institutions?
The following issues illustrate potential areas of interest, but offer only a starting point, as we welcome creativity in topic, theory and method:

  • Projects for creating good organizations
  • Projects as institutional entrepreneurs or institutional carriers?
  • Projects as arenas for institutional conflicts
  • The multiple institutional embeddedness of projects
  • The process of inter-institutional projects
  • Boundary-spanning and projects
  • Project-based work as institutional work
  • Fostering creativity in institutionalized projects

Please note that while papers addressing only the interface between projects and organizations as well as between projects and institutions are very welcome, papers dealing with only organizations and/or institutions should be submitted to another sub-theme.


  • Bakker, R.M. (2010): “Taking stock of temporary organizational forms: A systematic review and research agenda.” International Journal of Management Reviews, 12 (4), 466–486.
  • Bakker, R.M., DeFillippi, R., Schwab, A., & Sydow, J. (2016): “Temporary organizing: Promises, processes, problems.” Organization Studies, 37 (12), in print.
  • 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.
  • Grabher, G. (2002): “The project ecology of advertising: Tasks, talent and teams.” Regional Studies, 36 (3), 245–262.
  • Hobday, M. (2000): “The project-based organisation: an ideal form for managing complex products and systems?” Research Policy, 29 (7–8), 871–893.
  • Jones, C., & Lichtenstein, B. (2008): “Temporary inter-organizational projects: How temporal and social embeddedness enhance coordination and manage uncertainty.” In: S. Cropper, M. Ebers, C. Huxham & P. Smith Ring (eds.): The Oxford Handbook of Inter-Organizational Relations. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 231–255.
  • Kenis, P., Janowicz-Panjaitan, M., & Cambré, B. (eds.) (2009): Temporary Organzations – Prevalence, Logic and Effectiveness. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.
  • Lawrence, T.B., & Suddaby, R. (2006): “Institutions and institutional work.” In: S.R. Clegg, C. Hardy, T.B. Lawrence & W.R. Nord (eds.): The SAGE Handbook of Organization Studies. London: SAGE Publications, 215–254.
  • Lundin, R., Arvidsson, N., Brady, T., Eksted, E., Midler, C., & Sydow, J. (2015): Managing and Working in Project Society – Institutional Challenges of Temporary Organizations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Scott, R.W., Levitt, R.E., & Orr, R.J. (eds.) (2001): Global Projects – Institutional and Political Challenges. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Sydow, J., Lindkvist, L., & DeFillippi, R.J. (2004): “Project-based organizations, embeddedness and repositories of knowledge: Editorial.” Organization Studies, 25 (9), 1475–1489.
Jörg Sydow is Professor of Management and Chair of Inter-firm Cooperation at the School of Business & Economics of Freie Universität Berlin, Germany, as well as Speaker of the newly established Research Unit ‘Organized Creativity’, sponsored by the German Research Foundation (DFG). His research focuses, among others, on strategic alliances and networks, management and organization theory, industrial relations, and temporary organizing. He is a member of the Editorial Boards of ‘Organization Studies’, ‘Academy of Management Review’, ‘Academy of Management Journal’ and ‘Journal of Management Studies’.
Candace Jones is a Professor of Strategy and Chair of Global Creative Enterprise at the University of Edinburgh Business School, UK. She studies project in the creative industries, particularly building and film. Her research interests include institutional logics, networks, vocabularies and materiality and how these influence institutionalization of projects. She has published in ‘Academy of Management Annals’, ‘Administrative Science Quarterly’, ‘Academy of Management Review’, ‘Journal of Organizational Behavior’, ‘Organization Science’, ‘Organization Studies’ and ‘Poetics’. She co-edited the ‘Oxford Handbook of Creative Industries’. She is on the Editorial Boards of ‘Academy of Management Review’, ‘Journal of Professions and Organization’, ‘Organization Science’ and ‘Organization Studies’.
Jonas Søderlund is a Professor of Management Studies at BI Norway and Linköping University, Sweden. He has studied project-based organizations, knowledge and time in projects, and project careers. His work has appeared in such journals as ‘Human Relations’, ‘Management Learning’, ‘Organization Studies’, ‘R&D Management’, and ‘International Journal of Management Reviews’. He is currently on the Editorial Board of ‘Organization Studies’ and one of the Editors of ‘Project Management Journal’.