A Contingent Theory Of Governance For The Global Project Organization: The Effect Of Uncertainty And Diversity On Order And Conflict

Rachel Pacheco, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation explores how complex organizations operate in complex environments. Specifically, this dissertation aims to build a more complete view of how the project organization—a group of firms that comes together to execute a common goal—navigates relationships with the partners that comprise it and navigates the stakeholder relationships in the external environment in which it is embedded. In examining these complex organizations, I develop theory that explains how composition and governance differ for organizations comprised of multiple partners, and how and why key mechanisms—such as conflict—affect their ability to be successful. To investigate these questions, I draw on a dataset comprised of approximately 3000 project organizations comprised of over 100,000 partners that operate in 135 countries from the years 1999-2019. This dataset includes over 400,000 pages of project reports, which are analyzed through natural language processing, as well as the corpus of media reports reported within 50km of the projects. As such, this dissertation builds a contingent theory of the governance of project organizations through an empirical view of the project organization on a size and scale not previously seen in management research. The first chapter of this dissertation examines three diversity types – variety of functional roles, separation in institutional values, and financial disparity – to show how each type impacts conflict between members of the project organization and the project organization and external stakeholders. Furthermore, this work shows that under joint conditions of diversity, conflict can be reduced. The second chapter explores the plural governance of the project organization and examines the alignment of governance choice, uncertainty, and performance. Building on transaction cost theory, this chapter shows that the project organization experiences better performance under conditions of environmental uncertainty when it exhibits greater hierarchy, but only when the firm at the top of the hierarchy is knowledgeable of the external environment. Under conditions of behavioral uncertainty, the project organization experiences better performance when it has less hierarchy, but only in certain types of projects. The final chapter shows under what conditions development projects incite conflict between political, social and economic stakeholder groups. Institutional distance and non-competitive selection of project organization members exacerbate external conflict under conditions of elite bias, that is, when the project organization is not inclusive in its network of stakeholder relationships. Taken together, these three chapters offer a contingent theory of governance of the project organization by answering when and under what conditions the concentration of resources and relationships drives (or mitigates) conflict and affects the performance of the project organization.