Relational pluralism in project settings: towards a research agenda

Construction projects are characteristically complex undertakings whose successful realisation requires the engagement of a myriad of individuals, teams and organisations. Projects therefore provide a platform for the emergence of multiplex (i.e. entities having more than one type of relationship), heterogeneous (i.e. entities connected to others from different backgrounds) and overlapping (i.e. entities belonging to clusters or spanning boundaries) relationships. This notion of the existence of relational pluralism in projects has implications for project constituents and project delivery. For individuals, it is how to grapple with multiple and conflicting identities in achieving outcomes. For teams, it is how to grapple with multiple types of inter-team relations and still maintain harmony to achieve goals, and for organisations, it is how to deal with the multiplicity of relationships among individuals and teams and still achieve goal congruence. This paper draws on social identity theory, social network theory and social capital, and their complementarity to explicitly examine the presence of multiplex, heterogeneous and overlapping relationships in projects and explain how relational pluralism can be exploited to facilitate effective project delivery. We further highlight the research avenues relational pluralism presents in project settings and examine the methodological implications of such research agendas.