Adaptive responses to performance gaps in project networks

Federica Angeli, Joerg Raab, Leon Oerlemans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Project networks are an increasingly salient organizational temporary form to deal with complex problems. It remains unclear, however, whether and how project networks adapt over time, and hence implement changes, both within the span of the specific project, and across projects. We apply the performance feedback perspective to explore how adaptive responses to performance feedback are organized and absorbed within project networks. We investigate these matters in the area of humanitarian and development aid efforts, which represent complex social issues. In this context, project networks involve a multitude of actors at different distances from the implementation field, from the donor, through an international Non-Governmental Organization, to the NGO’s country offices, local NGOs and the beneficiary communities. Our qualitative findings, which we generate through an abductive analytical process, highlight that project networks dealing with complex social issues face six paradoxes based on DeFillipi and Sydow (2016): the distance, difference, identity, learning, temporal and performance paradoxes. Collective goal-setting, adaptive monitoring and evaluation practices, and continuous re-negotiation of aspiration levels emerge as coping mechanisms enabling project networks to internalize insights from the field and translate them into adaptive behavioral responses, mainly at the intra-project level. We contribute to a better understanding of adaption in these temporary forms, and particularly in its behavioral consequences. The study also advances knowledge on the performance feedback perspective, through its application in temporary settings, on the level of the project network and in the context of complex social issues, where organizational arrangement strive to pursue multiple interdependent goals.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)153-178
Number of pages25
JournalResearch in the Sociology of Organizations
Publication statusPublished - 17 Sept 2020
Externally publishedYes

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