Why Project Networks Beat Project Teams
To research the factors that affect the success of teams working on knowledge-intensive projects, the authors studied a companywide recognition program for project teams at a large multinational food company. Based on that research, the authors introduce the concept of the project network as an important tool for accomplishing knowledge-intensive work. Typically, project networks consist of a core set of team members who bring in noncore contributors (such as other company employees, suppliers, consultants or customers) from their personal networks to provide knowledge, information or feedback regarding the team’s task. The project network thus takes advantage of both the project team as a whole and the personal networks of the members.
The authors contrast finalist and nonfinalist project teams from the team recognition program at the food company. The empirical data the authors report indicate that, on average, there was no significant difference between the finalist and nonfinalist teams with respect to several project characteristics: resources, project membership or changes in the project. However, in one area there was a significant difference: The finalist project teams had more noncore contributors. After controlling for project characteristics,size of core project team and other factors related to participation, the number of noncore contributors was a positive and significant predictor of success, the researchers report.
A project network can be helpful whenever any of the following conditions is present: The project scope is beyond the control and sphere of influence of the core team; the task is complex, and it is unclear whether or not there is an optimal solution; or some of the knowledge necessary to create a high-value outcome resides elsewhere. Managers can use a project’s kickoff meeting to set norms and expectations that members of the project team have the option to look outside the team for possible solutions to complex problems.