Organisational learning from failure and the needs-based hierarchy of Project-Based Organisations

Danstan Bwalya Chiponde*, Barry Gledson, David Greenwood

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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In his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation”, Maslow suggested the “Hierarchy of Needs” as a classification system that described the stimuli for human behaviour. Presently, project behaviour research, which inspired this work, encourages undertaking research on behavioural aspects within and across organisational and project settings. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to analyse project-based organisations’ (PBOs) seemingly reluctance in engaging in organisational learning from past project failures by drawing upon both institutional theory (since it focuses on how firms interact) and Maslow’s model within a project behaviour piece of research.

Interviews were held with purposively selected construction professionals from the UK construction industry, and data were analysed using thematic analysis.

Besides the need to learn from failures, PBOs’ main competing needs revolve around their “competitiveness”; “profitability and productivity”; “repeat business” and “reputation and partnering”. Mirroring these needs against Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, “competitiveness” and “profitability” are analogous to foundational “physiological” and “safety” needs. The need for “repeat business” and “reputation” is approximated with Maslow’s “affiliation” and “self-esteem” needs, and organisational learning is associated with “self-actualisation”. From an institutional theory perspective, such response to failure is influenced by the need to show legitimacy and conformity imposed by institutional factors.

Practical implications
Instead of taking a simplified approach to learning from failure such as the use of technological tools, PBOs and the sector at large should consider more robust approaches, by appreciating the influence of institutional factors and the external environment on their efforts to learn from failure.

Unlike past studies that present organisational learning within PBOs as a straightforward process, this study instead highlights the need of understanding various competing needs within a PBO and the external pressure.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)121-132
Number of pages12
JournalFrontiers in Engineering and Built Environment
Issue number2
Early online date5 Apr 2022
Publication statusPublished - 27 Apr 2022


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