Access the publisher's website Organization Science 26, 4 (2015) 1059-1078
This paper investigates how the structure of the informal communication network that results from efforts to coordinate task interdependence between design teams in complex product development projects moderates the effect of task interdependence on inter-team communication. Drawing on theoretical mechanisms from the social network and knowledge transfer literature, as well as on recent empirical advances in exponential random graphs models (ERGMs) of social networks, we examine how the presence of a common third party in the communication network affect the likelihood of technical communication between interdependent teams designing the components of a large commercial aircraft engine. Although task interdependence has a strong and significant effect on the likelihood of communication between teams, this effect is moderated by the presence of common-third parties. The nature of this moderation depends on the position of the common third party within the triadic communication structure. When the common third party seats in the middle of a communication chain between the potential source and the potential recipient of technical communication, its presence increases the likelihood of communication between these two teams. However, when the communication between the source and recipient can trigger cyclic exchanges between the three teams, the presence of the third party reduces the likelihood of communication between the two interdependent teams, increasing the risk of coordination disruptions. We discuss the implications of our findings to the literature of intraorganizational networks in new product development.