Polycentric organizing and performance: A contingency model and evidence from megaproject planning in the UK
This study sheds light on polycentric forms of organizing and corresponding performance implications. Organizations with a polycentric architecture supplement their internal hierarchical decision-making structures with egalitarian, local structures in order to encourage collaboration with legally independent stakeholders. We ground our study on the planning stage for four capital-intensive infrastructure development projects (megaprojects) in the UK. We first establish that megaproject planning is carried on by polycentric organizations. We show that in this form of organizing the promoter has decision-making authority over the high-order choices, but shares the authority over the local choices with groups of autonomous stakeholders. We also show how this organizational architecture addresses local disputes and pressures to relax performance targets. Our main contribution is a contingency model that proposes four conditions linking performance to polycentric organizing, whether or not: i) the institutional environment empowers an ‘umpire’ to referee disputes; and ii) the system leader can mobilize substantial slack resources to reconcile conflicting interests. We argue that the four conditions reveal very different classes of managerial problems, and draw implications for practice and policy including but not limited to megaprojects.