The Queen Bee Outlives Her Own Children: A Luhmannian Perspective on Project-based Organizations (PBOs)

Michael Grothe-Hammer, Dennis Schoeneborn

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This chapter is concerned with unfolding a theoretical perspective on (dis)ordering that is grounded in Niklas Luhmann’s sociology of organizations. Luhmann conceptualizes organizational phenomena as interconnected communicative events of ordering (i.e., fixing contingencies through decisions) and disordering (i.e., the inevitable opening up of new contingencies through decisions). We showcase the value of the Luhmannian perspective by employing it to study the phenomenon of project-based organizations (PBOs) in which the interplay of ordering and disordering is particularly precarious. Through a comparative analysis of two PBOs (one from film production, one from IT consulting), we show that the interconnectivity of communicative events tends to be continuously disrupted in PBOs on the cross-project level. Accordingly, from a Luhmannian viewpoint, the PBO itself can be understood as a rather rudimentary organizational phenomenon that tends to “outlive" its own projects which, in turn, remain environmental to the PBO. These theoretical insights bring forth implications for cross-project learning as well as for our understanding of PBOs as an organizational form. While PBOs are often celebrated as an extremely flexible form of organizing, they also exhibit high degrees of inflexibility, that is, a tendency of ordering without disordering.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDis/organization as Communication : Exploring the Disordering, Disruptive and Chaotic Properties of Communication
EditorsConsuelo Vásquez, Timothy Kuhn
Number of pages20
Place of PublicationNew York
Publication date2019
ISBN (Print)9780429960567
ISBN (Electronic)9780429492327
Publication statusPublished - 2019
SeriesRoutledge Studies in Communication, Organization, and Organizing

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