Project Management Institute

Temporary organizations

the state of the art and distinct approaches toward "temporariness"



1 Department of Organisation Studies
Tilburg University

2 TiasNimbas Business School


Temporary organizations (TOs) are encountered in a vast range of social and economic activities and across a range of industries. In the commercial sector, they may involve a joint effort to develop a new technology or product, bring about organizational renewal, or enter a new market (Goodman & Goodman, 1972, 1976; Lundin & Soderholm, 1985). They are prevalent in such industries as engineering, construction, and architecture, but also in film-making and theater productions (Engwall, 2003; Ekstedt, Lundin & Wirdenius, 1992; Goodman & Goodman, 1972, 1976; Morley & Silver, 1977; Bechky, 2006). In the public and non-profit sectors, TOs take the form of presidential commissions, court juries, election campaigns, rescue and disaster relief operations, and many other activities (Goodman & Goodman, 1976; Lundin & Söderholm, 1995). Although in some sectors, like construction or engineering, TOs have been around for a long time (Asheim, 2002); it is in the context of the so-called “neweconomy” that they are receiving increasing attention. Thus, although the phenomenon of the temporary organization is not new, the attention it attracts in recent years is (Grabher, 2002). This increased attention is related to the assumption that organizations with a predefined termination point, such as project teams, are a crucial form for contemporary economic organizing (Grabher, 2002; Sydow, Lindkvist & DeFillipi, 2004).

Although all temporary organizations (TOs) have an ex-ante determined termination point, they take a variety of forms. Strategic alliances formed for the sake of entering a new market, research and development consortia set up for the purpose of developing a new technology and other similar endeavors with a predefined termination are just a few examples of TOs, which are set up for a great variety of reasons and under a great variety of circumstances (Lundin, 1995), both within as well as between organizations (Packendorf, 1995). Moreover, TOs can range from very small in size, like a project team, to very large undertakings like the Olympic Games and major infrastructure projects such as the construction of the Sydney Opera House and the Channel Tunnel (Engwall, 2003; Lundin, 1995). Finally, they can take a form of an independent legal entity (e.g., a project-based firm or a project-based organization) or not, when members of one or multiple organizations “work together on specific projects without becoming employees of a distinct and separate firm” (Whitley, 2006, p. 80)1.

More than two decades ago, Bryman and colleagues lamented that the “exploration of so-called temporary systems or temporary organizations” was lacking (Bryman, Bresnen, Beardsworth, Ford, & Keil, 1987, p. 253). Many research efforts have been carried out since then (Lundin & Söderholm, 1995), focusing on such aspects of TOs as delineation of the phenomenon and development of typologies, success and contingency factors, and learning and knowledge sharing in and across TOs, as well as leadership, trust, decision-making and TOs’ links with the environment (e.g., Asheim, 2002; Balachandra & Friar, 1997; Cusumano & Nobeoka, 1998; Engwall, 2003; Freeman & Beale, 1992; Grabher, 2002; Keegan & Hartog, 2004; Koppenjan, 2001; Laufer, Woodward & Howell, 1999; Meyerson, Weick and Kramer, 1996; Parkin, 1996; Pinto & Slevin, 1987; Pinto & Covin, 1989; Pinto & Mantel, 1990; Sapsed, Gann, Marshal & Salter, 2005; Shenhar, Dvir, Levy & Maltz, 2001; Smith, 1993; Thaiman & Wilemon, 1987; Turner & Cochrane, 1993; Turner & Müller, 2005). However, despite the recognition that temporary systems differ from their non-temporary counterparts (Bryman, Bresnen, Beardsworth, Ford, & Keil, 1987) and the substantial amount of research on the nature and functioning of TOs, many important research questions have remained unaddressed thus far. This shortcoming is one of the primary stumbling blocks to the development of a full-fledged theory of TOs. Moreover, as we will demonstrate, there is no consensus about what the temporary character of TOs exactly entails. Various authors, to a greater or lesser extent, explicitly subscribe to different definitions of temporariness, but an explicit discussion of what temporariness of TOs actually involves and implies for their functioning and performance is conspicuously absent in the existing literature. Yet, if temporary organizations are to be considered as a distinct organizational form, it is necessary to unequivocally define and demonstrate the relevance of this feature, which we believe distinguishes this entity from other types of organization.

The purpose of this paper is twofold. First, we review the literature on TOs. In doing so, we strive to present a comprehensive, up-to-date overview of extant research on the various aspects of temporary organizations and, more importantly, identify gaps in prior research, which can help guide our future research efforts. Second, we aim to identify and categorize the different approaches to temporariness that can be encountered in the current body of literature, and make the call for more systematic research on the role of temporariness for TOs’ functioning and performance.

A First Glance at the Temporary Organization Phenomenon

The early beginnings of research on TOs (and systems) as such can be traced back to the 1960s and early 1970s, when authors like Miles (1964), Bennis and Slater (1968), and Goodman and Goodman (1972) discussed the concept of a temporary system in the context of educational innovations, societal trends, and theatre productions, respectively. These authors defined the concept quite clearly and discussed in substantial detail the inputs, outputs, and processes that characterize such systems. Among the first to predict the coming advent of temporary organizations was Bennis (1969, p. 44), when stating, “Organizations of the future … will be adaptive, rapidly changing temporary systems, organized around … groups of relative strangers.” Publications on the subject continued in late 1970s (Goodman & Goodman, 1976; Morley & Silver, 1977) and throughout 1980s (Bryman, Bresnen, Beardsworth, Ford & Keil 1987; Pinto & Covin, 1989), but were few and wide-spread in time. The interest in TOs reignited in 1995 with the special issue of the Scandinavian Journal of Management on TOs (i.e., Hellgren & Stjernberg, 1995; Lundin, 1995; Lundin & Söderholm, 1995; Packendorf, 1995). More recent influential contributions include those of Engwall (2003), Grabher (2004), Bechy (2006), and Turner and Müller (2003), the latter of which draws the explicit link between TOs and projects as one of their empirical materializations. In fact, it is now well established that projects constitute an empirical manifestation of the temporary organization concept (see Packendorf, 1995; Lundin & Söderholm, 1995).

At first glance, literature on TOs seems quite scarce. A literature search on “temporary organization” yields few results. Upon closer scrutiny however, the apparent scarcity of literature turns out to be incorrect. The primary reason for that is that research on TOs is often disguised under a variety of labels, such as temporary systems, temporary groups and, most notably, projects and project teams (that do not even include “temporary” in the label). Thus, rather than being scarce, literature on TOs is dispersed. Seminal contributions have appeared in edited volumes with topics as diverse as trust in organizations (Meyerson, Weick & Kramer, 1996) and innovation in education (Miles, 1964), rather than in outlets focusing on TOs in their own right. Recently, some focus has been provided by two special issues of general management journals, namely the Scandinavian Journal of Management and Organization Studies.

Arguably, literature on project management is relatively concentrated, and thus constitutes an exception to the fragmentation described above. Although the project management literature does suffer from a number of shortcomings (which have been rather elaborately discussed by for instance Packendorff, 1995, and will not be reiterated here) many useful insights can be derived from it. Although project management literature usually does not refer to TOs, we subscribe to the view of many authors who deem projects to be manifestations of temporary organization, and thus consider literature on project management to contribute to our knowledge of TOs. The practical problem with equating a project with a TO however, is that project literature deals predominantly with intra-organizational projects, and thus for the most part ignores inter-organizational projects (e.g., Lundin & Söderholm, 1985). Some authors, in fact, make this an explicit assumption; Shenhar (2001, p. 395) for instance stated that projects can be seen as “temporary organizations within organizations.” Yet, TOs as we understand them can and frequently do involve a number of different organizations. Considering the above, we suggest that TOs are a conceptual category that encompasses projects but also other forms of temporary organizing. Thus, although project management literature contributes predominantly to our understanding of merely one of the types of TOs (i.e., intra-organizational), we still consider it a valuable contribution to our understanding of TOs in general. In contrast to the rest of this volume, therefore, where the focus is on inter-organizational TOs, our literature review and discussion of temporariness is equally applicable to both inter- and intra-organizational TOs.

Major Themes in the TO Literature

In this section, we present some major themes that we were able to identify in the literature on TOs, taking a broad definition towards the phenomenon, including for instance temporary systems, temporary organization, temporary groups and projects. Below we discuss these broad categories of aspects and themes, reviewing issues that have been studied and those that, in our view, still remain to be addressed.

General Definition and Delineation

The great multitude of forms that TOs assume as well as the variety of areas in which they operate results in a profusion of definitions of TOs in the extant literature. For example, Goodman & Goodman's (1976: 494) often quoted definition holds that TOs involve “a set of diversely skilled people working together on a complex task over a limited time period”. Morley & Silver (1977: 59) defined temporary systems as systems “limited in duration and membership, in which people come together, interact, create something, and then disband”. Similarly, Keith (1978, p. 195) proposed that “temporary systems are structures of limited duration that operate within and between permanent organizations”, while Grabher (2004) viewed TOs as transient, inter-disciplinary institutions focusing on the achievement of a single task. Whitley (2006: 78) focused on TOs which are separate legal and financial entities set up for a specific project and dissolved upon its completion, while Bechky (2006: 3) defined TOs as bringing “together a group of people who are unfamiliar with one another's skills, but must work interdependently on complex tasks.”

As this small sample of definitions reveals, different authors focus on different aspects of TOs. While some emphasize the nature of the task (Goodman & Goodman, 1976; Grabher, 2004; Whitley, 2006), others grant attention to the character of the team involved (Bechky, 2006; Goodman & Goodman, 1976; Grabher, 2004). Still others tend to focus on varieties of forms that TOs can take (Keith, 1978; Whitley, 2006). Perhaps, it is in light of this that Lundin & Söderholm (1995: 439) in aiming to develop the skeleton of a theory of TOs, proposed four concepts to demarcate the concept of temporary organization: limited time, a task as a TO's raison d'etre, a team that works on the task within the time available, and transition reflected in the “expectation that there should be a qualitative difference in the temporary organization “before” and “after.”

In general, we found in our literature review that TOs are viewed as organizations set up to accomplish one or a very limited number of tasks, to do so through a team of selected actors and within a limited amount of time, and having transition as an ultimate end (Lundin & Söderholm, 1995; Packendorf, 1995; Turner & Müller, 2003). Other characteristics include that, compared to non-temporary organizations, TOs are argued to tackle tasks of higher complexity and engender higher levels of uncertainty and interdependence between team members, while at the same time being more constrained on time and budget (Bryman, Bresnen, Beardsworth, Ford, & Keil, 1987; Goodman & Goodman, 1976; Grabher, 2002; Meyerson et al., 1996; Morley & Silver, 1977). TOs are also posited to be less bureaucratic and mechanistic and more participatory in their leadership style (Bryman, Bresnen, Beardsworth, Ford, & Keil, 1987; Meyerson et al., 1996), while the selection of team members is argued to be based on their interpersonal skills and competences (Benis & Slater, 1968; Bryman, Bresnen, Beardsworth, Ford, & Keil, 1987). Finally, an often mentioned characteristic of TOs is a certain degree of isolation (e.g., Miles, 1964; Lundin & Söderholm, 1995).

Although many factors have been put forward as distinguishing TOs from their non-temporary counterparts, of which the most crucial were mentioned previously, we would argue that all of them are to a greater or lesser extent consequences of the one true distinguishing feature of TOs that is mentioned consistently across definitions, namely their temporariness (see Goodman & Goodman, 1976; Grabher, 2004; Keith, 1978; Lundin & Söderholm, 1995; Morley & Silver, 1977). In our view, despite the great diversity of forms and activities of TOs and the resulting variety of definitions they are accompanied by, temporariness is the only factor that is unique to TOs, while others are simply consequences or correlates thereof, which need not be exclusive to TOs. Given the central significance of temporariness in understanding TOs, we were struck by the conceptual ambiguity associated with this concept, and the resulting lack of systematic research concerning its effects. Later in this paper, we will elaborate on this lack of clarity and report on the different ways in which various authors have conceptualized temporariness.

Types of TOs and Contingent Effects

Besides defining TOs in contrast to other non-temporary forms of organizing, some authors have focused on dimensions along which TOs themselves are likely to vary. This has led to the development of various typologies and taxonomies of TOs. For example, Whitley (2006, p. 79) identified two differentiating dimensions of TOs: the singularity of goals—whether the products developed are unusual, one-off—and distinctiveness and stability of work roles—whether “the organization of expertise, tasks, and roles is predictable and stable over projects” (Whitley, 2006, p. 81). The intersection of the two dimensions led Whitley (Ibid) to define four types of TOs which are referred to as: organizational, precarious, craft, and hollow. Similarly, Turner & Cochrane (1993) propose a classification of projects around two dimensions: how well defined are the goals and how well defined are the methods. Lundin and Söderholm (1995) pointed out that the tasks of a TO can be either unique (one-off) or repetitive, that is, a task that will be repeated in the future. Other scholars, mostly in the PM literature (e.g., Blake, 1978; Wheelwright & Clark, 1992) classify projects according to the level of change that they involve and/or the outcomes they are intended to bring about (Dvir et al., 1998; Shenhar, 2001). Others still, construct multidimensional classifications of projects, like Balachandra & Friar (1997) who focus on three different dimensions of new product development and R&D projects: the nature of technology (low vs. high), the type of innovation (incremental vs. radical) and the market (new vs. existing). While all these classifications were formulated in a deductive manner, Dvir, Lipotevsky, Shenhar & Tishler (1998) take a different approach by constructing a classification of projects empirically, thereby proposing a taxonomy rather than a typology of projects.

Another distinction proposed in extant literature is that between inter- and intra-organizational TOs (Keith, 1978; Lundin & Söderholm, 1995). While PM literature deals primarily with intra-organizational TOs, there are some, though few, interesting contributions focusing exclusively on inter-organizational TOs. Examples include Jones & Lischtenstein (2006) who studied inter-organizational projects and Ness & Haugland (2005) who focused on fixedduration interfirm relationships. Overall, we find a scarce number of studies dealing with inter-organizational TOs. We see it as a serious shortcoming, considering the strategic importance of inter-organizational collaboration in recent years (Muthusamy and White, 2005).

Many of the studies mentioned above not only proposed a classification of projects, but also argued that “the different types of projects exhibit different sets of success factors, suggesting the need for a more contingent approach in project management” (Dvir et al., 1998, p. 915). For example, Shenhar (2001) built on this classification to show that in managing a project, different approaches are appropriate for different projects. Turner and Cochrane (1993) argued that management of the four different kinds of projects requires different startup and implementation techniques. Some of these different characteristics of TOs are also argued to have implications for their performance. Similarly, Dvir et al. (1998) identified sets of managerial variables affecting the success of each class of projects in their project taxonomy. Shenhar & Dvir (1996) finally, developed a two-dimensional typology along the dimensions of technological uncertainty and system scope and argue that this is a useful tool for predicting project effectiveness.

Overall, we conclude, with respect to the varieties of TOs, while some groundwork has been laid, there remains much to be done. For example, while a number of differentiating dimensions have been identified, none of them is in any way related to the time aspect of TOs. This is surprising considering that time and its limitedness is, as we argued, the very core of the TOs. Additionally, we find that very little has been done in terms of understanding how the various differentiating dimensions impact upon the functioning and outcomes of TOs. While PM literature has made a step in this direction, the contributions we were able to identify focus predominantly on the managerial implications of the project variability. We would like to stress that before formulating managerial recommendations, there is need for understanding—both theoretically and empirically—how the individual or group-level phenomena in TOs are affected by the different variables, time-related in particular.


As foreshadowed by the discussion in the preceding paragraph, performance of TOs, projects in particular, has received much research interest. While performance is a topic extensively covered by the project management literature, contributions concerning performance are rare in the general literature on TOs. Overall, a consensus seems to emerge that, compared to non-temporary settings, temporary systems provide superior effectiveness and goal accomplishment, particularly when the goal to be achieved involves change or transformation (Lundin & Söderholm, 1995). The superior effectiveness of temporary systems has been argued to be a result of isolation from their environment (Lundin & Söderholm, 1995; Miles, 1964). Isolation is assumed to minimize outside disturbance to plans, thus assuring an uninterrupted completion of the task and to stimulate greater experimentation and openness to change, thus allowing to overcome the inertia normally found in non-temporary organizations (Lundin & Söderholm, 1995; Miles, 1964). Superior effectiveness of TOs compared to non-temporary systems is also posited to be a consequence of higher productivity and task orientation. Miles (1964, p. 457) argued that “in temporary systems … restrictions in time, goal, personnel, and space, and the protection from external stress, help to create conditions for vigorous, productive work.” The time pressure that members in TOs are sometimes believed to experience, due to temporariness and the “urgency of delivering the desired outcomes within the desired timescales” (Turner & Müller, 2003, p. 1), is argued to lead to a strong task orientation, which may come at the expense of bridging cognitive distance or developing social or emotional ties (Lindkvist, 2005).

However, effectiveness and task accomplishment are only two out of many possible performance indicators. In fact many authors in the field of TOs have pointed to the difficulty of measuring TO success. In the context of temporary systems set up to accomplish change in persons or organizations, Miles (1964) argues that the outcomes may not only be uncertain but very difficult to measure as well. One of the primary reasons why measuring progress and outcomes of TOs is so difficult is because success is “heavily dependent on the reaction of the environment” (Goodman & Goodman, 1976, p. 496). The environment of a temporary organization is likely to encompass a vast variety of stakeholders, whose assessments of TO's performance may significantly differ. Leaders of TOs may therefore need to navigate complex and at times contradicting pressures from various sources external and internal to the project (cf. Goodman & Goodman, 1976).

As far as the project management literature is concerned, the approach to measuring project success has evolved over the years from very technical accounts related to the efficiency of implementation processes (i.e., timeliness, cost, functionality) in the 1970s, through increased focus on the perceptions of various stakeholders and quality of planning and handover in the 1980s and 1990s, to more recent approaches taking into account such aspects as “project product and its utilization, staff growth and development, the customer, benefits to the delivery organization, senior management, and the environment” (Turner & Müller, 2005, p. 56). Still, as Pinto and Slevin (1987, p. 67) pointed out, “there are few topics in the field of project management that are so frequently discussed and yet so rarely agreed upon as the notion of project success.” Perhaps it is this difficulty Goodman and Goodman (1976, p. 498) were experiencing already in the 1970s when they concluded, “We were unable to find even crude measures for comparing task effectiveness.”

Aside from the above mentioned difficulties in measuring project success, a number of different approaches to delineating dimensions of project performance have been identified in the extant body of literature. For example, Shenhar et al. (2001) distinguished project efficiency, the impact on customers, direct business and organizational success, and preparation for the future as the four dimensions for evaluating the success of a project. The salience of each of the dimensions, they argued, depends on the type of project (Shenhar et al., 2001). Similarly, Pinto and Mantel (1990) identified the implementation process—that is, the perceived value of the project by team members— and client satisfaction with the delivered project as the main dimensions of project success, and argued that “perceived causes of project failure will vary depending on … the stage of its life cycle [and] type of project assessed” (Pinto & Mantel, 1990, p. 271). Also, Pinto & Slevin (1987) empirically identify 14 critical success factors of a project. Building on their research, Pinto & Covin (1989) show that the relevance of different success factors varies across the different types of projects as well as across the stages of their life cycle. All these sets of performance criteria are not only linked to the various stakeholders of a project, whose assessments of performance are likely to vary (Freeman & Beale, 1992) but reflect the contingent effects of project success as well (e.g., type of project or lifecycle phase).

In addition to the above mentioned studies, a substantial amount of research has probed the driving forces of project performance. For instance, Thamhain and Wilemon (1987) identified six forces driving project performance related to leadership, job content, personal needs, and general work environment. Allen, Lee, and Tushman (1980) took a closer look at the role played by internal project communication in the project's performance, and found that the effect depends on the type of project (product and process development vs. research teams vs. technical service teams). Cusumano and Nobeoka (1998) investigated the impact that different strategies for managing multiple projects have on performance of the projects. Finally, Kernaghan and Cooke (1990) studied the ways in which the performance of a temporary group can be improved by interventions into the rational and interpersonal group processes.

Based on the above, we conclude that some inroads have been made with respect to identifying various aspects of TO performance and what drives the various performance dimensions. However, we did not find any studies that would investigate the effect of a given driver of success (or a set thereof) on various performance indicators. Such investigation would be crucial as negative interaction effects can be plausibly expected as when a given factor would have a positive effect on one aspect on performance and simultaneously a negative impact on another aspect of performance. For example, TOs aiming at innovation, strictly sticking to the project plan may be conducive to meeting the deadline and performing within budget, but not necessarily to maximizing the innovativeness of the final product. Understanding the effect the different variables have on various performance indicators, and the underlying mechanisms, could become the basis for formulating more realistic, and better grounded, managerial recommendations. We see this as an important direction for future research.

Learning in TOs and Knowledge Flows

The issue of learning and knowledge transfer within TOs, as well as between the TO and its environment, has received a considerable amount of research attention. For example, Brady and Davies (2004) focus on the relationship between organizational learning and project learning. They propose two modes of learning, the bottomup, project-driven mode of learning, which involves the transfer of knowledge created in the project to other projects and the organization as a whole, and the “business-led” mode of learning which occurs when organizational knowledge is exploited to “perform increasingly predictable and routine project activities” (Ibid, p. 1601). Another interesting issue is raised by Lindkvist (2005) who investigates temporary organization as a learning entity. In contrast to communities of practice, which involve individuals engaging in a joint enterprise around a shared practice, he argues “most TOs comprise a mix of individuals with highly specialized competences, making it difficult to establish shared understandings or a common knowledge base” (Ibid, p. 1190). Additionally, most TOs “consist of people, most of whom have not met before, who have to engage in swift socialization and carry out a pre-specified task within set limits as to time and costs” (Ibid). For that reason, rather than as communities of practice, such groups should be conceived of as “collectivities-of-practice.” Collectivities of practice operate on decontextualized, explicit knowledge, and its members are conceived as free agents rather than them undergoing enculturation. Learning occurs primarily through problem-solving (Ibid).

As for intra-TO knowledge transfers, Sapsed, Gann, Marshal & Salter (2005) have compared knowledge transfer practices between members of co-located and dispersed teams. Katz & Tushman (1981), on the other, studied the role of gatekeepers in the external acquisition of technical ideas in different kinds of projects (research, development, and technical service spectrum of R&D activities). Combining both approaches (intra-TO and TOenvironment knowledge transfers), Schofieled & Wilson (1995) study the way in which project teams help organizations to deal with change by stimulating individual and organizational learning. These authors focus on the specific rules, roles, and relationships that can aid project team members to share their knowledge with one another and with other organizational members more effectively.

Finally, in the context of TO learning and knowledge transfers, some research attention has been attributed to the relationship between the TOs and the various organizational contexts in which they are embedded, that is, TO embeddedness. Grabher, for instance (2004, p. 1491), viewed projects as “inextricably interwoven with an organizational and social context which provides key resources of expertise, reputation, and legitimation.” In a similar vein, Scarbrough et al. (2004) focused on the relationship between projects and their organizational environment in studying how organizations learn from projects. Based on a comparative analysis of two construction projects, Scarbrough et al. formulated propositions with respect to the transfer of knowledge generated in a project to other parts of the organization, suggesting a tradeoff between the potential for knowledge integration within a TO and the sharing of knowledge to the parent organization. Finally, Grabher (2004), in analyzing project-based learning, went beyond the organizational embeddedness of a project to various other layers of the ecology in which it is embedded (Ibid, p. 1491). He argued that creation and retention of knowledge in projects occurs at the interface between the project itself and the core team, firm, epistemic community, and personal networks, that is, at the different layers of the ecology (Ibid). Through a comparative case study of project ecologies, Grabher identified two learning logics (cumulative vs. disruptive) and pinpoints the associated differences between them.

The research on TO embeddedness raises a very intriguing issue, namely the relationship between the TO and its environment. While some authors argue that the superior effectiveness and goal accomplishment of TOs is due to their isolation from the environment (Lundin & Söderholm, 1995; Miles, 1964), others seem to stress the TO's dependence on the environment in accomplishing of its task (Engwall, 2003). We propose that there is vast scope for future research to explore the tension between environmental dependence and embeddedness of TOs and their isolation from the point of view that the effect of such isolation has on the functioning of the TOs, the resources available to them, and their performance on various criteria, etc. In relation to this, we would like to label a TO's level of temporal embeddedness. By this we mean the “structures and procedures employed in a project [that link it] to previous and simultaneous courses of activity, to future plans, and to standard operating procedures, traditions, and norms of its organizational context” (Engwall, 2003: 790). For example, Cusumano & Nobeoka (1998) identify four multi-project strategies that firms can employ to leverage resources and capabilities accumulated from past projects. Several other authors have also addressed the TO's embeddedness in a milieu of recurrent collaborations (e.g. Grabher, 2002; Engwall, 2003), which implies that the TO and its functioning is affected by past and future collaborations. We see the idea of temporal (un-)embeddedness and its consequences for TO's functioning and performance to be a particularly interesting one, considering that it touches directly on the time aspect of temporary organizing, which as we argued earlier is central to understanding TOs.

Human Resource Aspects

Various scholars have focused on human resource management in the context of TOs, in particular, team member selection and leadership, role clarity, and stress related to the involvement in TOs. As far as team member selection is concerned, some authors focus on the recruitment of personnel for TOs (e.g., Bennis & Slater, 1968; Bryman, Bresnen, Beardsworth, Ford, & Keil, 1987; Morley & Silver, 1977).. These authors suggested that compared to non-temporary organizations, selection of TO members is based rather on their interpersonal skills and competences than purely on professional qualifications (Bennis & Slater, 1968; Bryman, Bresnen, Beardsworth, Ford, & Keil, 1987). This, in our view, constitutes an interesting issue which opens up possibilities for further research. Questions related to the process of team member selection for TOs, criteria used therein, as well as the effect that the consequent team composition is likely to have on TO performance have not, to the best of our knowledge, been addressed thus far. Similar questions regarding member choice can be posed with respect to inter-organizational TOs, where member choice occurs first at the level of participating firms. A somewhat different but related issue calling for research attention is the impact of TO composition (be it in terms of organizations involved or individuals involved) on the outcomes of TOs.

Another human resource aspect covered in extant literature is the issue of leadership. Interestingly, a literature review conducted by Turner and Müller (2005) revealed that, with few exceptions (e.g., Thamhain and Wilemon, 1987), leadership is not typically mentioned as one of the critical success factors in project management. Nevertheless, some scholars have undertaken to study leadership styles in TOs. They found that, compared to non-temporary organizations, the leadership in TOs tends to be more participatory in style (Bryman, Bresnen, Beardsworth, Ford, & Keil, 1987; Meyerson et al., 1996). Furthermore, leaders of TOs in the construction sector were found to have higher task orientation compared to those operating within non-temporary organizations (Bryman, Bresnen, Ford, Beardsworth, & Keil, 1987).

In contrast to the above two studies, aiming to identify the leadership style in TOs as opposed to non-temporary settings, Keegan and Hartog (2004), studied the relationship between a particular leadership style (i.e., transformational) on employee motivation, commitment, and stress in project teams, as compared to teams reporting to line managers. Interestingly, these authors demonstrated that although managers of projects are not perceived to be less transformational compared to line managers, the relationship between transformational leadership and outcomes tends to be less strong for employees reporting to project managers, than for those reporting to line managers. The latter study, suggests that temporariness of a project rather than having a significant effect on the type of leadership exercised, also has an effect on the relationship between the leadership style and certain outcomes. Further research is needed to investigate the mechanisms underlying this significant moderating effect of temporariness.

Tension and pressure resulting from involvement in a TO is a topic of investigation for some authors. The relation between the two, however, is not unequivocal. While Keith (1978) found that involvement in a TO correlates positively with work-related tension and higher strain, Miles (1964, p. 457) argued that members of a TO are protected from external stress. This apparent contradiction might be rooted in the fact that Keith (1978) studied TOs that involved team members part-time, i.e., who continued their work in the non-temporary setting, and with high turnover in TO membership. Miles (1964), on the other hand, considered TOs to be isolated from their environment to a certain extent, and self-contained. This issue of partial involvement and isolation brings us back to the earlier discussion of TO (un-) embeddedness and the effect it may have on various aspects of TO performance.

Finally, an issue tackled by the existing literature are the roles of TO members. Goodman and Goodman (1976) analyzed a sample of 20 theatre productions, focusing on the effectiveness (task accomplishment), innovation, and the professional growth of the members of such temporary systems. They found that role clarity has a positive effect on the first aspect and a negative effect on the latter two. In addition, Bechky (2006) studied film projects, and found that these kinds of TOs are, to a large extent, coordinated through structured role systems. Whitley (2006) finally, focused on role separation and stability of TO members in and across the TOs as one of the differentiating features of project-based organizations, capturing the “flexibility and distinctiveness of their system of work organization and control” (Whitley, 2006: 83). Whitley goes on to argue that project based firms (PBFs) with low separation and stability of roles tend to learn through “establishing and changing patterns of work organization and division of tasks and skills,” while in PBFs with high separation and stability of roles learning “tends to be more specific to each individual and role than collective and organizational.”

Structure and Coordination

As far as coordination in TOs is concerned, there are few studies that take coordination as the primary focus, although there are some notable exceptions. Most authors in this field dealt with the question of coordination as a sub-theme, relating to the primary interest of inquiry. However, there appears to be a consensus in viewing TOs as having relatively less structure compared to non-temporary organizations, and fewer formal and normative structures (Keith, 1978; Meyerson et al., 1996). They are also posited to be less hierarchical (Bennis, 1965; Miles, 1964; Palisi, 1970), and less bureaucratic and mechanistic than non-temporary organizations (Bryman, Bresnen, Beardsworth, Ford, & Keil, 1987; Kadefors, 1995; Meyerson et al., 1996). Considering the above, TOs are considered to require more interpersonal and less formal processes of coordination (Bechky, 2006).

One example of such an interpersonal coordination mechanism is trust.. Its relevance has been addressed both for intra- or inter-organizational TOs. However, the importance of trust in the context of TOs presents a paradox. Extant literature tends to emphasize the importance of “long term relationships for the generation of trust” (Grabher, 2002, p. 205), while in TOs there is apparently no “time to engage in the usual form of confidence-building activities that contribute to development and maintenance of trust in more traditional, enduring forms of organization” (Lindkvist, 2005, p. 1199). Thus, although TOs for the most part do not offer an opportunity for long-term relationships to develop, their members are found to rely heavily on trust. Trust is also necessary considering the complex tasks for which TOs are usually set up (e.g., learning and innovation) (cf. Grabher, 2002) and the problem solving it requires (Ness & Haughland, 2005). Ness & Haugland (2005) investigate how governance mechanisms evolve in inter-organizational relationships with fixed ex ante endpoint. They find that despite the limited duration which could be expected to lead to non-cooperative behavior of the partners, trust and relational norms do develop in such temporally limited collaborations. While hierarchical control mechanisms can supply the necessary confidence level, trust is necessary in order to assure sufficient information sharing for the required problem solving.

Yet, perhaps the most noteworthy contribution on this issue of trust in TOs was offered by Meyerson et al. (1996), who thoroughly analyzed the issue of trust between members of temporary groups. As a possible solution for the above mentioned paradox, Meyerson et al. (Ibid) introduced the concept of “swift trust,” which is based primarily on role-based interactions between members of temporary groups, and emerges as people under time pressure have no way of collecting evidence on the actual trustworthiness of individuals in the group and thus resort to categorydriven information processing. Formation of swift trust thus involves the willingness to suspend doubt and “import” trust to a given situation rather than create it. The suspension of doubt is an inherent element of any kind of trust (Möllering, 2003), but seems to be of particular importance in swift trust. With regard to coordination, Bechky (2006), contested Meyerson et al.'s (1996) view, of TOs as unstructured and unstable, and thus requiring swift trust as a primary mode of coordination. To the contrary, Bechky argued, work in such systems is structured quite well, although coordination is achieved through other means than traditionally thought of. She found that role-prescribed interactions occurring within a TO both coordinate the activities of a TO and sustain the role structures across TOs.

It appears as if Bechky's (2006) ‘total institution’ film projects are a quite specific kind of TO. Assuming that there must be some degree of fit between the structure of TOs and their environment and task, the issue of variance in structural aspects across various types of TOs appears to be a very fruitful area for future research, which has received only scant attention. As we mentioned above, similar to non-temporary organizations, TOs vary in terms of the tasks they are set up to handle, the contexts in which they operate and many other factors. Each of these contingencies is likely to be of influence on what kind of structure will be most appropriate to coordinate the TO.


Research on decision-making in TOs is scarce. The only contributions to the subject that we were able to identify were related to decision-making in the context of project teams. Moreover, all the studies were quite normative, practitioner-oriented and providing instrumental solutions (e.g., Smith, 1993; Laufer, Woodward, & Howell, 1999; Koppenjan, 2001), Examples of the problems covered by these studies include the discussion of when a project manager should include others in the decision-making process (Smith, 1993), a tool for the project manager to manage the decision-making process of his team under the circumstances of uncertainty and time pressure in the planning of the project (Laufer et al., 1999), and a way to make sure that safety considerations are internalized in the design and implementation of a project by involving representatives of safety interests already in the decision-making process (Koppenjan, 2001).

There appears to be a vast scope for further research in the vacant field of decision making in TOs. Issues raised by prior research can serve as a stepping stone in identifying directions for future research. The issue of participation in the decision process is one of high relevance as it is likely to affect not only the decision outcome but also the commitment of those involved in the decision making to that outcome. Temporariness may have quite interesting implications here as commitment may be harder to build in a transitory endeavor. The issue of inclusion in the decision making process is also likely to be related to the problem of taking decisions under high levels of uncertainty and time pressure. While time pressure is likely to negatively affect including many stakeholders in the decision-making process (favoring efficiency by a centralized process), higher uncertainty may call for higher inclusiveness (cf. Provan & Kenis, 2008). We consider these to be but two interesting areas for future research.


Two opposing views with regard to TO development have emerged from the literature. On one hand, Lundin and Söderholm (1995), drawing on the project lifecycle model presented in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Third Edition, proposed four phases in the TOs’ development: action-based entrepreneurialism, fragmentation for commitment building, planned isolation, and institutionalized termination. This is thus a sequencing approach to TO development. In contrast to the sequential approach, Gersick (1988, 1989) and Engwall and Westling (2004) proposed a punctuated equilibrium model of group dynamics in temporary teams.

Gersick (1988, 1989) analyzed how temporary groups’ awareness of deadlines leads them to pace activities and what consequences this had for the way these groups approached their work. The results revealed that after establishing a particular approach to executing a task at the outset of its work, the group stayed with the approach for a period of inertia that ended with a transition (almost exactly half way through the group's existence), where the group dropped the old approach and adopted new perspectives to solving the problems. This was followed by rapid and marked progress as the group carried out the new approach for another period of inertia, which ended with another transition right before the deadline, which resulted in a “burst of activity” that allowed them to complete their work (Gersick, 1989, p. 276).

In a similar vein, Engwall and Westling (2004, p. 1557) used the concept of peripety (i.e., the moment of sudden change) to explain the dynamic evolution of a project that had started out as ineffective and then “abruptly became highly structured and effective.” While before the peripety the project members did not share a common view of the goals and objectives, or of the means that may lead to their achievement, “after the peripety … one conceptualization … was commonly enacted on a collective level” (Engwall & Westling, 2004, p. 1569).

Although the latter two studies are empirical and exploratory, in contrast to the former, which is conceptual and based on the PMBOK® Guide (which has been charged with being largely a-theoretical) the question still remains, whether TOs develop in a sequential manner or that rather the punctuated equilibrium model is more applicable. We propose that the difference may lie in the management structure of the project. When a team is managed by a project manager, the project is likely to proceed differently (more sequentially) than in the case when the team is selfmanaged (more peaks and lows are to be expected). In fact, from the PM point of view, the very purpose of project management is to equalize the project's development both in terms of exerted effort as well as the approach taken (for example by means of intermediate deliverables). The peaks and lows resulting from a selfmanaging team are recognized as the default manner of project development (in absence of centralized management) and linked to a higher level of project risk.

Project-Based Organizations

The final strand of research that emerged from our literature review focuses on organizations of which operations are mainly based on projects, that is, project-based organizations (e.g., Hobday, 2000; Turner & Keegan, 1999, 2001). To highlight a few of these studies: Turner and Keegan (1999) presented the preliminary findings of a project aimed to investigate how such organizations are managed, especially in relation to operational control and governance, as well as human resource policy (e.g., individual and organizational learning, leadership). In another study, Turner and Keegan (2001) investigated the governance structures of project organizations, with a particular emphasis on the roles of “broker” and “steward” in managing the interface between the project and clients. The most recent contribution on the subject, from Blindenbach-Driessen and van den Ende (2006), studied the success factors for projects within project-based organizations as opposed to those within functionally organized firms. “The application of contingent planning approaches, explicit project selection, senior management support, the availability of sufficient experts, making business cases and testing and launching the new services” appear to be more important in project-based organizations compared to others (Ibid, p. 556). In contrast, “the use of crossfunctional teams, heavyweight project managers, collaboration with customers and suppliers and performing market research” turn out to be less important (Ibid, p. 558).

Temporariness—Definitions And Implications

As mentioned, even though definitions of TOs have proliferated, there is one characteristic that all of them have in common, which concerns temporary organizations’ temporariness. Yet despite the central position that temporariness receives across the range of definitions, in the extant literature the understanding of temporariness and its implications is not unequivocal, as we will demonstrate below. If temporariness is in fact the essence of a TO, then a clear understanding of what this concept entails and implies seems crucial. In order to gain insight into that issue, we surveyed studies on TOs that more or less explicitly addressed the nature of the concept of temporariness of TOs.2 Again, we aim to identify the main themes that emerge in the extant literature with respect to understanding temporariness. We propose that there are three approaches to understanding temporariness, with the last one being a subcategory of the second: temporariness as short duration, temporariness as limited duration, and temporariness as awareness of impending termination.

Temporariness as Short Duration

The first approach identified by our literature review links temporariness to duration, as it considers the essence of temporary organization to be in its short-lived character. Temporary systems are assumed to have short lifespans, extending from a few weeks to a few years. An example of a study that makes this claim explicit is Shenhar (2001b). Referring to projects as TOs, she drew on the work of Kerzner (1994) to define them “as organizational processes of planning, organizing, directing, and controlling resources for a relatively short-term objective established to complete specific goals and objectives” (Shenhar, 2001b, p. 241). Similarly, Porsander (2000) viewed temporariness as a continuum, with short-lived organizations at one extreme and long-lived organizations at the other. Accordingly, Porsander argued that since the organization she studied is closer to the first extreme, it is thus of temporary character. For Porsander (Ibid), the temporariness continuum is therefore equivalent to the duration continuum.

Duration, however, is in itself not an unequivocal criterion for distinguishing TOs from their non-temporary counterparts. It was found that the duration of some technical projects may exceed 15 years (Kerzner, 1994, as cited in Shenhar, 2001b). This suggests that there are cases where the lifespan of a TO can actually be longer than that of a non-temporary organization. The length of organizations’ lifespan is thus a relative concept, and its use for discriminating between non-temporary and TOs we find highly problematic. Nevertheless, such understanding of temporariness is quite common in the literature, which either explicitly points to a short lifespan as the distinguishing feature of TOs or does so more implicitly by discussing TOs in terms of the implications that “short duration” has for their functioning. Some of the implications of “short duration” that the literature mentions include, for example, the assumptions that there is not enough time to “develop a ‘shared’ task-relevant knowledge base” (Lindkvist, 2005, p. 1198), “to plan organizational change” (Gardiner & Simmons, 1998, p. 39), or “to develop longterm trust in interpersonal relationships” (Munns, 1995, p. 19). It is frequently argued that project members are forced to “cut to the chase”—reduce the extent of socializing “and quickly engage in ‘cool’ cooperation based on ‘swift trust’” (Lindkvist, 2005, p. 1198; Meyerson et al., 1996). In sum, where temporariness is taken to imply short lifespan, TOs are assumed to have a strong task orientation, at the expense of social or emotional ties (Lindkvist, 2005).

Another argument commonly referred to within the bounds of this approach is related to communication issues. In contrast to non-temporary organizations, in which communication barriers are thought to be overcome over time through common experience, the tight schedules on which TOs operate are thought to prevent the development of common experiences that would help overcome cognitive differences (Gardiner & Simmons, 1998). Considering that the overlap in knowledge bases of its members is likely to be very limited, the short lifespan of a TO does not allow sufficient time to create a shared, task-relevant knowledge base (Gardiner & Simmons, 1998; Lindkvist, 2005). Finally, it is argued that temporariness as short duration prevents group members from developing superordinate goals—“goals that transcend the self-interests of each participant” (Weick, 1993, p. 644). This is likely to contribute to groups’ vulnerability to disruptions, especially in the early stages of their existence (Weick, 1993).

Besides the fact that, as we discussed, defining temporariness in terms of duration is problematic, what is also remarkable in this strand of literature is that rather than studying the specific implications of short duration for the functioning of TOs, the arguments focused primarily on the aspects in which TOs differ from non-temporary organizations. At the same time, it is implicitly implied that these differences may be problematic; they are based on some underlying assumptions concerning that which is important in organizations in general (e.g., social and emotional ties, high level of communication, common goals), is important for all forms of organizations. Not made clear, however, are the implications of the lack or lower level of the above factors for the functioning and effectiveness of TOs.

Temporariness as Limited Duration

The second conceptualization of temporariness observed in the literature—an approach somewhat more prevalent than the previous one—is that of temporariness as limited duration (e.g., Grabher, 2002). Here, TOs are conceptualized as being bound by a deadline; their existence is limited in time by an institutionalized termination (Lundin & Söderholm, 1995). In contrast to the short duration approach, the emphasis in this approach is not on how long a TO exists, but rather on the fact that it will cease to exist at a foreseeable point in time. The termination point can be specified in terms of a specific moment in time, a specific event, like the completion of the project goals (e.g., Bechky, 2006, Whitley, 2006), or a specific state or condition (Miles, 1964). In other words, this conceptualization does not stress the (short) duration of the TO but rather its ex ante established temporal limitation.

In line with this approach, Morley and Silver (1977, p. 59) defined temporary systems as systems “limited in duration and membership, in which people come together, interact, create something, and then disband.” Their emphasis therefore is on the fact that the existence of a TO is limited; that is, after the completion of a TOs task, it is disbanded (Morley & Silver, 1977). Similarly, Bryman, Bresnen, Ford, Beardsworth, and Keil (1987, p. 13) focused on the “limited period of time” in which the task of a temporary system needs to be completed. Goodman and Goodman (1972, p. 103) viewed temporary systems as “groups, which work together, only once, on a specific task with a specific end point.” In the same vein, Engwall (2003, p. 789) referred to projects as “time-limited organizational structures.” Turner and Müller (2003, p. 1) also identified transience as one of the characteristics of projects: that is, the fact that they have “a beginning and an end.” All the above definitions clearly emphasize the termination point of a TO and the fact that this termination point has been determined at the moment of its formation.

Interestingly, similar to studies in which the short duration aspect of temporariness figures centrally, in studies that approach temporariness from the point of view of temporal limitation, the emphasis is also on the scarcity of available time. For example, Morley and Silver (1977), when pointing out the implications temporal limitation has for the organization, highlighted the need for getting into relationships quickly and dealing with stress. This was also true for Turner and Müller (2003, p. 1), who argued that the consequence of temporal limitation of organizations (i.e., their transience) is the “urgency of delivering the desired outcomes within the desired timescales.” This focus on time pressure-related consequences of temporal limitation is somewhat puzzling, as the presence of an ex ante defined termination point does not in itself need to imply time pressure (i.e., the awareness of insufficient time for a task)—the termination point can be quite distant, as in the aforementioned 15-year-long technical projects. In short, although the second approach defines temporariness in terms of its temporal limitation, the implications of limited duration appear to be analyzed only in terms of time pressure-related issues. In general, for both approaches discussed thus far, explorations of the implications of temporariness on the functioning and performance of TOs have been very limited. Moreover, these implications seem to be limited exclusively to the difficulties the impermanence of a TO may cause for its functioning.

In sum, the limited duration approach, in contrast to the short duration approach, views organizations as entities that at the outset of their existence have a predefined termination point. Here, therefore, the temporariness of TOs does not have much to do with their duration (a non-temporary organization may have a shorter lifespan than a temporary one), but with the temporal limitation of their existence being fixed in advance (see Grabher, 2002). Termination can be linked to a specific moment in time, to a specific event, or to a specific state or condition (Miles, 1964).

Temporariness as Awareness of Impending Termination

Besides the distinction between the short duration and limited duration approaches that have been previously identified in the literature (see Grabher, 2002), based on our literature review we were able to define a third class of studies, which constitutes a sub-category of the limited duration approach. Similar to this second category, this group of studies emphasizes the limited duration of temporary systems. But in addition, and of particular interest here, is the effect that awareness of this fact has on the individual and collective behavior of TO members.

Miles (1964) stressed that in temporary systems, “members hold from the start the basic assumption that—at some more or less clearly defined point in time—they will cease to be” (Miles, 1964, p. 438, emphasis added). Later, Keith (1978) pointed out that “temporary systems are created with the understanding that they will be of limited duration” (Keith, 1978, pp. 195-196, emphasis added). Similarly, Packendorf (1995) talked of the “predetermined point in time or time-related conditional state when the organization and/or its mission is collectively expected to cease to exist” (Packendorf, 1995, p. 327, emphasis added). Finally, Sapsed et al. (2005) called on the earlier work of Bryman, Bresnen, Beardsworth, Ford, and Keil (1987) in stressing that “it is not so much the temporary character of projects per se that is the most important feature distinguishing them from more permanent systems, but rather the recognition and anticipation of transience” (2005, p. 832, emphasis added).

In contrast to the first two conceptualizations of temporariness, the arguments put forward in this class of studies did not focus on how time pressure leads to, for example, necessity for swift trust or a higher task-orientation. Rather, the arguments here centered on how the shared awareness of impending termination affects the social processes taking place in the TO. Miles (1964) stated this succinctly when he set out to illustrate “phenomena which flow from the fact that all participants know from the outset that the system is not permanent, but will terminate at a specified time” (1964, p. 445). Clearly, therefore, the underlying assumption here is that the social processes taking place in TOs may be quite different from those in non-temporary systems. Another author that clearly illustrates the importance and implications of the awareness of impeding termination is Gersick (1988, 1989), whose findings were discussed earlier. The finding that “teams did not develop in a universal sequence of activities or stages, as traditional models have predicted,” but rather went through periods of inertia punctuated by drastic moments of transition (Gersick, 1989, p. 276), is evidence of the unique social processes that may develop in a TO as a result of the member's awareness of the system's impending termination. That which in effect makes this approach to understanding temporariness unique is the focus not on how long an organization exists, not even the fact that it has limited duration, but the importance of the awareness (recognition and anticipation) of their imminent termination (i.e., transience) that members of these organizations are confronted with from the outset of their existence (see Bryman, Bresnen, Beardsworth, Ford, & Keil, 1987).


We have reviewed the literature on the concept of temporary organizations, both with respect to the issues covered by extant research (and those which have not been studied thus far) as well as the ways in which temporariness is conceptualized. With respect to the first aim, we discussed the primary areas and topics related to the functioning of TOs that have been addressed in extant literature, identified the gaps in this work, and provided a number of directions for future research.

Some of the promising areas for future research include the exploration of time-related differentiating variables of TOs, further investigation of the issue of TO embeddedness in and dependence on its environment, as well as examination of such variables as TO management structure (and its effect on TO dynamics), and TO composition and member selection. As we pointed out, there is a clear need to study the effect that these variables have on the functioning of TOs and outcomes associated with them. Importantly, the study of the effect of those different variables on TO performance need to take into account various aspects of that performance (e.g., innovativeness, effectiveness, goal attainment, timeliness, etc). At a more general level we contend there exists a lack of rigorous and systematic theoretical development in the literature on TOs. A first step to amend this situation would be to assess the applicability of various well-established organization theories to temporary contexts. Such an exercise would assist to take stock of those areas of theoretical development that are most needed..

As for our second aim, based on our literature review, we were able to identify three distinct approaches to understanding that which is identified as the crucial characteristic of TOs: their temporariness. To summarize: in the first approach, temporariness is conceptualized as short duration, the second approach stresses the limited duration of temporary systems, and the third views temporariness from the point of view of TO members’ collective awareness of the system's impending termination. While the first approach does not provide an objective criterion for distinguishing between temporary and non-temporary systems, the second one does so by stressing the ex ante defined termination point of the organization. In contrast to the first two approaches, which limit the scope of arguments to time pressure-related effects of temporariness, the third approach stresses the consequences the shared awareness of the system's imminent extinction has for social processes taking place in the temporary system. For these reasons, we propose that it is this approach to temporariness that forms the most fertile breeding ground for subsequent inquiry. In addition, we found that for all three conceptualizations of temporariness, a thorough examination of what temporariness implies for TOs’ functioning, performance, and link to the wider (organizational) context, is lacking in the current body of literature. We thus conclude that research explicitly studying the temporariness (as TO members’ awareness of impending termination) of TOs, and its implications for their functioning and performance, constitutes one of the more prominent avenues for future research in this nascent field of inquiry.


Allen, T., Lee, D. M., & Tushman, M. L. (1980). R&D performance as a function on internal communication, project management, and the nature of the work. IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management, 27(1), 2-12.

Aoki, M. (2004). An organizational architecture of T-form: Silicon Valley clustering and its institutional coherence. Industrial and Corporate Change, 13(6), 967-981.

Asheim, B. T. (2002). Temporary organizations and spatial embeddedness of learning and knowledge creation. Geografiska Annaler, 84B(2), 111-124.

Balachandra, R. & Friar, J. H. (1997). Factors for success in R&D projects and new product innovation: A contextual framework. IEEE Transactions in Engineering Management, 44(3), 276-287.

Baum, J. A. C. & Oliver, C. (1992). Institutional embeddedness and the dynamics of organizational populations. American Sociological Review, 57, 540-559.

Bechky, B. (2006). Gaffers, gofers, and grips: Role-based coordination in temporary organizations. Organization Science,17, 3-22.

Bennis, W. G. & Slater, P. E. (1968). The temporary society. New York: Harper & Row. Bennis, W. G. (1969). Post-bureaucratic leadership. Trans-action, 6, 44-61.

Blindenbach-Driessen, F. & van den Ende J. (2006). Innovation in project-based firms: The context dependency of success factors. Research Policy, 35, 545-561.

Brady, T. & Davies, A. (2004). Building project capabilities: From exploratory to exploitative learning. Organization Studies, 25(9), 1601-1621.

Bryman, A., Bresnen, M., Beardsworth, A. D., Ford, J., & Keil, T. (1987). The concept of the temporary system: The case of the construction project. In N. DiTomaso & S. B. Bacharach (Eds.), Research in Sociology of Organizations, 5, 253-283. Greenwhich, CT: JAI Press.

Bryman, A, Bresnen, M., Ford, J., Beardsworth, A., & Keil, T. (1987). Leader orientation and organizational transience: An investigation using Fiedler's LPC scale. Journal of Occupational Psychology, 60, 13-19.

Clegg, S. R., Pitsis, T. S., Rura-Polley, T., & Marosszeky, M. (2002). Governmentality matters: Designing an alliance culture in inter-organizational collaboration for managing projects. Organization Studies, 23(3), 317-337.

Coleman, J. (1990). Foundations of social theory. Cambridge, MA.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1975). Beyond boredom and anxiety. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. & LeFevre, J. (1989). Optimal experience in work and leisure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56, 815-822.

Cusumano, M. A. & Nobeoka, K. (1998). Thinking beyond lean: How multi-project management is transforming product development at Toyota and other companies. New York: The Free Press.

Dacin, T. M. (1997). Isomorphism in context: The power and prescription of institutional norms. Academy of Management journal, 40(1), 46-81.

DiMaggio, P. & Powell, W. W. (1983). The Iron Cage revisited: Institutional isomorphism and collective rationality in organizational fields. American Sociological Review, 48(2), 147-160.

Dvir, D., Lipotevsky, S., Shenhar, A., & Tischler, A. (1998). In search of project classification: A non-universal approach to project success factors. Research Policy, 27, 915-935.

Ekstedt, E., Lundin, R. A., & Wirdenius, H. (1992). Conceptions and renewal in Swedish construction companies. European Management Journal, 10(2), 202-209.

Ekstedt, E. & Wirdenius, H. (1995). Renewal projects: Sender target and receiver competence in ABB “T50” and Skanska “3T.” Scandinavian Journal of Management, 11(4), 409-421.

Elchardus, M. (1990). The temporalities of exchange. The case of self-organization for societal governance. In B. Marin (Ed.), Generalized political exchange: Antagonistic cooperation and integrated policy circuits, 231-255. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Engwall, M. (2003). No project is an island: Linking projects to history and context. Research Policy, 32, 789-808.

Engwall, M. & Westling, G. (2004). Peripety in an R&D drama: Capturing a turnaround in project dynamics. Organization Studies, 25(9), 1557-1578.

Faulkner, R. R. & Anderson, A. B. (1987). Short-term projects and emergent careers: Evidence from Hollywood. American Journal of Sociology, 92, 879-909.

Freeman, M. & Beale, P. (1992). Measuring project success. Project Management Journal, 23(1), 8-17.

Galaskiewicz, J. (1996). The ‘new network analysis’ and its application to organizational theory and behavior. In D. Iacobucci (Ed.), Networks in marketing. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Gardiner, P. D. & Simmons, E. L. (1998). Conflict in small- and medium-sized projects: Case of partnering to the rescue. Journal of Management Engineering, 35, 35-40.

Garson, J. & Quillen, J. (1993). After Madrid and Maastricht … Should we rethink negotiations? European Business Review, 93(4), 19-25.

George, J. M. & Jones, G. R. (2000). The role of time in theory and theory building. Journal of Management, 26(4), 657-684.

Gersick, C. J. G. (1988). Time and transition in work teams: Toward a new model of group development. Academy of Management Journal, 31(1), 9-41.

Gersick, C. J. G. (1989). Marking time: Predictable transitions in task groups. Academy of Management Journal, 32(2), 274-309.

Goodman, L. P. & Goodman, R. A. (1972). Theatre as a temporary system. California Management Review, 15(2), 103-108.

Goodman, R. A. & Goodman, L. P. (1976). Some management issues in temporary systems: A study of professional development and manpower – The theatre case. Administrative Science Quarterly, 21, 494-501.

Grabher, G. (2002). Cool projects, boring institutions: Temporary collaboration in social context. Regional Studies, 36(3), 205-214.

Grabher, G. (2004). Temporary architectures of learning: Knowledge governance in project ecologies. Organization Studies, 25(9), 1491-1514.

Gunz, H., Evans, M., & Jalland, M. (2000). Career boundaries in a “boundaryless world.” In M. Peiperl, M. Arthur, R. Goffee, & T. Morris (Eds.), Career frontiers: New conceptions of working lives. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hargadon, A. B. & Douglas, Y. (2001). When innovations meet institutions: Edison and the design of the electric light. Administrative Science Quarterly, 46, 476-501.

Hellgren, B. & Stjernberg, T. (1995). Design and implementation in major investment—A project network approach. Scandinavian Journal of Management, 11(4), 377-394.

Hobday M. The project-based organization: An ideal form for managing complex products and systems? Research Policy. 29(2000) pp. 871-893

Human, S. E. & Provan, K. G. (2000). Legitimacy building in the evolution of small-firm multilateral networks: A comparative study of success and demise. Administrative Science Quarterly, 45, 327-365.

Jones, C. & DeFillippi, R. J. (1996). Back to the future in film: Combining industry and self-knowledge to meet career challenges of the 21st century. Academy of Management Executive, 10, 89-104.

Jones, C. & Lichtenstein, B. B. (2006). Types of inter-organizational projects: Managing uncertainty through temporal and social embeddedness. Forthcoming book chapter.

Jugdev, K. (2004). Through the looking glass: Examining theory development in project management with the resource-based view lens. Project Management Journal, 35(3), 15-26.

Kadefors, A. (1995). Institutions in building projects: Implications for flexibility and change. Scandinavian Journal of Management, 11(4), 395-408.

Katz, R. & Tushman, M. (1979). Communication patterns, project performance, and task characteristics: An empirical evaluation and integration in an R&D setting. Organizational Behavior and human performance, 23, 139-162.

Katz, R. & Tushman, M. (1981). An investigation into the managerial roles and career paths of gatekeepers and project supervisors in a major R&D facility. R&D Management, 11(3), 103-110.

Keegan, A. E. & Den Hartog, D. N. (2004). Transformational leadership in a project-based environment: a comparative study of the leadership styles of project mangers and line managers. International Journal of Project Management, 22, 609-617.

Keith, P. M. (1978). Individual and organizational correlates of a temporary system. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 14(2), 195-203.

Kernaghan, J. A. & Cooke, R. A. (1990). Teamwork in planning innovative projects: Improving group performance by rational and interpersonal interventions in group process. IEEE Transactions on engineering management, 37(2), 109-116.

Kerzner, H. (1994). The growth of modern project management. Project Management Journal, 25(2), 6-8

Koppenjan, J. F. M. (2001). Project development in complex environments: Assessing safety in design and decisionmaking. Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management, 9(3), 121-130.

Kreiner, K. (1995). In search of relevance: Project management in drifting environments. Scandinavian Journal of Management, 11(4), 335-346.

Laufer, A., Woodward, H., & Howell, G.A. (1999). Managing the decision-making process during project planning. Journal of Management in Engineering, March/April, 79-84.

Lewin, K. (1951). Field theory in social science. New York: Harper.

Lowendahl, B. R. (1995). Organizing the Lillehammer Olympic Winter Games. Scandinavian Journal of Management, 11(4), 347-362.

Lindkvist, L. (2005). Knowledge communities and knowledge collectivities: A typology of knowledge work in groups. Journal of Management Studies, 42(6), 1189-1210.

Lundin, R. A. (1995). Temporary organizations and project management (Editorial). Scandinavian Journal of Management, 11(4), 315-318.

Lundin, R. A. & Söderholm, A. (1995). A theory of the temporary organization. Scandinavian Journal of Management, 11(4), 437-455.

Lyles, M. A. & Byers, K. M. (1994). An examination of a health care international joint venture in Poland. International Studies of Management & Organization, 24(4), 31-47.

Meyer, J. W. & Rowan, B. (1977). Institutionalized organizations: Formal structure as myth and ceremony. American Journal of Sociology, 83, 340-363.

Meyerson, D., Weick, K. E., & Kramer, R. M. (1996). Swift trust and temporary groups. In R. M. Kramer & T. R. Tyler (Eds.), Trust in organizations: Frontiers of theory and research, 166-195. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Midler, C. (1995). “Projectification” of the firm: The Renault case. Scandinavian Journal of Management, 11(4), 363-375.

Miles, M. B. (1964). On temporary systems. In M.B. Miles (Ed.), Innovation in education, 437-490. New York: Teachers’ College, Columbia University.

Miller, R. & Hobbes, B. (2005). Governance regimes for large complex projects. Project Management Journal, 36(3), 42-50.

Morley, E. & Silver, A. (1977). A film director's approach to managing creativity. Harvard Business Review, 55(2), 59-70.

Möllering, G. (2003). Regional, institutional and active trust: Ideal-types and the role of suspension. Paper presented at the European Group for Organization Studies (EGOS) 2003 in Copenhagen.

Munns, A. K. (1995). Potential influence of trust on the successful completion of a project. International Journal of Project Management, 13(1), 19-24.

Nelson, R. R. & Sampat, B. N. (2001). Making sense of institutions as a factor shaping economic performance. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 44, 31-54.

Ness, H. & Haugland, S. A. (2005). The evolution of governance mechanisms and negotiation strategies in fixedduration interfirm relationships. Journal of Business Research, 58, 1226-1239.

Packendorf, J. (1995). Inquiring into the temporary organization: New directions for project management research. Scandinavian Journal of Management, 11(4), 319-333.

Palisi, B. J. (1970). Some suggestions about the transitory-permanence dimension of organizations. British Journal of Sociology, 21, 200-206.

Parkin, J. (1996). Organizational decision making and the project manager. International Journal of Project Management, 14(5), 257-263.

Paterson, B. L. (1997). The negotiated order of clinical teaching. Journal of Nursing Education, 36(5), 197-205.

Pinto, J. K. & Slevin, D. P. (1987). Critical factors in successful project implementation. IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management, EM-34(1), 22-17.

Pinto, J. K. & Covin, J. G. (1989). Critical factors in project implementation: A comparison of construction and R&D projects. Technovation, 9, 49-62.

Pinto, J. K. & Mantel, S. J. (1990). The causes of project failure. IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management, 37(4), 269-276.

Porsander, L. (2000). Translating a dream of immortality in a (con)temporary order. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 13(1), 14-29.

Rowley, T. J. (1997). Moving beyond dyadic ties: A network theory of stakeholder influences. Academy of Management Review, 22(4), 887-910.

Ruef, M. & Scott, W. R. (1998). A multidimensional model of organizational legitimacy: Hospital survival in changing institutional environments. Administrative Science Quarterly, 43(4), 877-904.

Sapsed, J., Gann, D., Marshall, N., & Salter, A. (2005). From here to eternity?: The practice of knowledge transfer in dispersed and co-located project organizations. European Planning Studies, 13(6), 831-851.

Schofield, J. & Wilson, D. C. (1995). The role of capital investment project teams in organizational learning. Scandinavian Journal of Management, 11(4), 423-436.

Shenhar, A. J. (2001a. One size does not fit all projects: Exploring classical contingency domains. Management Science, 47(3), 394-414.

Shenhar, A. J. (2001b. Contingent management in temporary, dynamic Organizations: The comparative analysis of projects. Journal of High Technology Management Research, 12, 239-271.

Shenhar, A. J. & Dvir, D. (1996). Toward a typological theory of project management. Research Policy, 25, 607-632.

Shenhar, A. J., Dvir, D., Levy, O., & Maltz, A. C. (2001). Project success: A multidimensional strategic concept. Long Range Planning, 34, 699-725.

Scarbrough, H., Swan, J., Laurent, S., Bresnen, M., Edelman, L., & Newell, S. (2004). Project-based learning and the role of the learning boundary. Organization Studies, 25(9), 1579-1600.

Schofiled, J. & Wilson, D. C. (1995). The role of capital investment project teams in organizational learning. Scandinavian Journal of Management, 11(4), 423-436

Smith, M. L. (1993). Decision making for project management. Project Management Journal, 24(2), 17-22.

Sydow, J., Lindkvist, L., & DeFillippi, R. (2004). Project-Based Organizations, Embeddedness and Repositories of Knowledge: Editorial. Organization Studies, 25(9), 1475-1490.

Thaiman, H. J. & Wilemon, D. L. (1987). Building high performing engineering project teams. IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management, EM34(3), 130-

Turner, J. R. & Cochrane, R. A. (1993). Goals-and-methods matrix: Coping with projects with ill defined goals and/or methods of achieving them. International Journal of Project Management, 11(2), 93-102.

Turner, J. R. & Keegan, A. (1999). The versatile project-based organization: governance and operational control. European Management Journal, 17(3), 296-309.

Turner, J. R. & Keegan, A. (2001). Mechanisms of governance in the project-based organization: Roles of the broker and steward. European Management Journal, 19(3), 254-267.

Turner, J. R. & Müller, R. (2003). On the nature of the project as a temporary organization. International Journal of Project Management, 21, 1-8.

Van de Ven, A. (1986). Central Problems in the Management of Innovation. Management Science, 32(5), 590-607.

Weick, K. E. (1993). The collapse of sensemaking in organizations: The Mann Gulch disaster. Administrative Science Quartely, 38, 628-652.

Wheelan, S. A. & Krasick, C. L. (1993). The emergence, transmission, and acceptance of themes in a temporary system of interacting groups. Group & Organization Management, 18(2), 237-260.

Whitley, R. (2006). Project-based firms: New organizational form or variations on a theme? Industrial and Corporate Change, 15(1), 77-99.

Wirth, I. (1994). The generic project management career path. Transactions of AACE International, CE.3.1.-CE.3.4. Zucker, L. G. (1987). Institutional theories of organization. Annual Review of Sociology, 13, 443-464.


1 Our approach therefore considers TOs to be a theoretical category, which encompasses among others various temporary forms of intra- and inter-organizational cooperation projects, among others. For this reason, in our discussion we draw on project management literature but do not limit ourselves to it.

2 Most of project management literature and some studies that focus on TOs, do not in any way address the nature of temporariness, even if the term itself is part of their analysis.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

© 2008 Project Management Institute



Related Content

  • Pulse InDepth Report2_Diversity

    A Case for Diversity

    PMI research shows project teams that draw from an array of perspectives and skillsets deliver powerful outcomes.

  • Pulse of the Profession

    A Case for Diversity

    PMI research shows project teams that draw from an array of perspectives and skillsets deliver powerful outcomes.

  • Tomorrow's Teams Today

    Tomorrow’s Teams Today

    PMI research reveals that it’s the organizations with creative, collaborative and agile teams that will thrive in The Project Economy.

  • Pulse of the Profession

    Tomorrow's Teams Today

    By PMI PMI research reveals that it’s the organizations with creative, collaborative and agile teams that will thrive in The Project Economy.

  • PM Network

    Erasing Boundaries

    By Khelifi, Yasmina As more projects have a global scope and scale, it's increasingly common for project professionals to manage stakeholders around the world, juggling time zones, technologies, languages and other…