narrative, enhances the chance “to win”.

The style categories presented in Table 3 are nothing more than contemporary styles observed by the first author, from an emic point of view, because as Beech [18] states: “actors are clearly not fixed in a single style category”. Nevertheless, it is apparent that the dominant project management style was romantic, whereas in the contract team more a mix of styles was present. We observed correlation between styles and coping narratives. The heroic style was dominant with the professional superiority coping narrative and the romantic style prevailed with the co-creation narrative. The differentiating versus the integrating character of the heroic respectively the romantic style are logical driving forces behind the chosen styles; i.e. superiority is inextricably linked to differentiation, whereas co-creation is not possible without integration. The locality coping narrative did not show a dominant style. The behavior of the “localist” could generally be described as differentiating but the narrative did not develop in a heroic way; hence the diversity of styles.

The described mechanisms can be explained by Hirschman’s theory on “Exit, Voice and Loyalty” [39] . Hirschman describes “exit and voice” as options for organization members to react on dissatisfying developments. He regards “loyalty” as the key parameter for the actor’s choice of behavior, in which loyalty is defined as an actor’s commitment to an organization. High loyalty makes a choice for “voice” plausible in which case the actor tries to prevent an undesired outcome by criticizing the situation. In absence of loyalty, there is little that withholds an actor from “exit”; i.e. leaving the organization and therewith the dispute.

Hirschman also states “voice is likely to play an important role in organizations only on condition that exit is virtually ruled out”. In this study almost all interviewees mentioned to consider exit not an option. In such a situation, Hirschman describes “expulsion (…) as an instrument?one of many?which “management” uses in organizations to restrict voice by members”. This fits the management interventions in the middle of 2010 when the project manager rearranged tasks, introduced a new contract manager and, in due time, replaced some team members. The contrast between the supporters of the locality narrative and the co-creation narrative can be seen as an ideological one, in which the supporters of the locality narrative followed a more “activist approach” and the supporters of the co-creation narrative were representing the “voice of reason”. In terms of Hirschman, in such a situation there is a threat of “overshooting the optimum”; i.e. due to their “extreme position”, the “localists” “have nowhere else to go” and are expected “to fight harder” than the “co-creationists”, thus having more chance to tip the balance in their favor. The supporters of the co-creation coping narrative are seen as having more space to act and thus less in dire straits. This situation was prevented through intervention by the successive project managers who promoted the co-creation coping narrative and restricted the (formal) discussions on this matter.

Describing the events in terms of Hirschman does not fully cover all developments; the observed application of power appeared to be layered. The first project manager used power as a tool to influence matters. Nevertheless, in terms of Beech [18] , his style appeared romantic (Table 3) due to the fact that team members hardly perceived his underlying motivations. Team members were aware of the rearrangement of tasks and positions in the first half of 2010 but the interviews showed they were not aware of the real motivations of the personnel changes in the team thereafter as these were all presented as in the interest of other projects in the Engineering Division. This required involvement of the organizational management, which was confirmed by a senior manager of the department. The heroic style in this action was apparently “disguised” as romantic; project and organization management displayed integration and did not openly aspire differentiation. Both project managers and the management of the Engineering Division pledged integration, which appeared to be an espoused value. Whether there was an actual contradicting value in use on organizational level did not become fully visible. An integrating romantic style was also demonstrated in the way the second project manager steered the team towards co-creation. In the observations it became apparent that team members were given only seemingly space to maneuver outside the “targeted narrative” but actual deviation from this path was restricted. Both project managers appeared to act out of sincere believe in a romantic approach as voiced in their micro-narratives. This is only coherent when we accept that their conviction and actions were layered.

Finally, the alderman clearly demonstrated his conviction and skills to achieve his goals. Whether he applied power did not became visible as this was not a subject of our research, but it is hard to imagine he did not. His style was heroic as he convincingly took the lead and presented himself as the frontman of the New Scheveningen Boulevard.

7. Discussion and Conclusions

The last two decades, there have been major developments in the Dutch infrastructure sector. New laws and regulations were introduced, abolishing old patterns of collaborating practices. As market players apparently were long lasting insufficiently aware of the consequences of new legislation, old practices continued for several years, resulting in a public inquiry in 2002, which uncovered widespread irregularities [6] [20] [21] . Similar developments were observed internationally [39] . Since 2002 the Dutch infrastructure struggles for finding new ways and structures of collaboration. This struggle is still taking place on the level of national forums, inside client organizations as well as contracting organizations, and inside operational (project) teams. On national and organizational level new practices are developed and decided upon in a vast tempo. New strategies of collaboration are unrolled in projects, requiring stakeholders and staff to adopt ‘on the spot’ new working practices. Various studies have focused on the consequences of these developments on organizational level e.g. [6] [40] [41] . The function of narratives in daily practice of project teams is less studied. What is happening inside the project arena, what social constructs are developed, what is the influence of parent organizations, what narratives are constructed and how do these develop? Are there reverse effects of these developments on the parental organizations, i.e. do project teams influence their parent organizations, and if so, what mechanisms evolve? This paper intends to contribute to the insight on interaction between parental organizations and project teams by presenting our findings on the interaction between grand narratives and coping narratives in the contract team of the New Boulevard Scheveningen, a large municipal construction project in The Netherlands.

As we saw the smooth transition of the national grand narrative towards the municipal grand narrative, we conclude that it is possible for an infrastructural project to follow more than one grand narrative but this will involve some dynamics. In this case, the temporal prevailing narrative on any given moment was determined by two factors: one was the topicality and the other the level of control by stakeholders. In the first phase of the project, control over finances was of influence and in the second phase the control over the public communication appeared decisive. These influences coincided with the topicality, which made the outcome convincing as well as obvious.

The studied grand narratives aimed for public communications by the respective governmental organizations but were also ingrained inside these organizations and in the teams entrusted with the realization of the project. Therefore our second conclusion is that grand narratives are used in the process of sense making and meaning giving by commencing coping narratives in project teams.

In the process of coping and sense making, members of the contract team created various coping narratives, which developed and varied in time and influence. None of the studied coping narratives fulfilled Boje’s definition of microstoria in the sense that they aimed to “shatter grand narrative” and break it down [9] . All coping narratives supported more or less the grand narratives and mainly fulfilled sense making and sense giving purposes for the team members. Our third conclusion therefore is that coping narratives are developed by team members to give meaning and direction to their daily actions but do not necessarily oppose grand narratives.

Diverging coping narratives led to competition inside the team. The styles used by the various team members were correlated to the values within the narratives. The differentiating professional superiority narrative was commonly supported by the, also differentiating, heroic style, whereas the integrating co-creation coping narrative was usually propagated with an integrating romantic style. Our fourth conclusion is therefore that narrating style and narrative content are interdependent in order to create coherency.

Finally, we conclude that management interventions and the use of power have been decisive for the choices and decisions in the studied contract team and therefore for the final results.


The authors thank the employees of the Engineering division of The Hague for their cooperation in this research; we especially thank Hans Alewijnse and Jack Amesz for their support.


1In this article, Dutch quotes and expressions, which are translated to English, are presented in Italic script.

2Ministerie van Infrastructuur en Milieu.

3Hoogheemraadschap van Delfland.

4Dienst Stadsontwikkeling.

5Dienst Stedelijk Beheer.

6Ingenieursbureau Den Haag.

7The project manager was earlier involved as project manager in the planning stage, from 2006 to 2008. Being employed by the DSO, he was replaced by a colleague from DSB for the realization stage. When this colleague retired, he became project manager of the Boulevard again, now employed by DSB.

8The construction supervisor was earlier involved as assistant supervisor from 2009 to the second half of 2010.


10Rijksprojectacademie; the name was changed to “Neerlands Diep Academie” in 2014.

11The “G4” are the four great municipalities of The Netherlands: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht. The engineering divisions of these municipalities exchange engineering expertise and capacity on request.

12At the northern end of the boulevard a fairy park is located, designed by the American artist Tom Otterness.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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