Up close and personal: How relational dynamics in founding teams are shaped by the context of entrepreneurship
Doktorsavhandling, 2021

Despite increased interest in the phenomena of team-based entrepreneurship, we still don’t know why some teams are more effective than others in their entrepreneurial pursuits. In fact, scholars acknowledge that we have yet to get a firm grasp on what teams ‘are’ in this unique work context, not least because their emotional and relational dynamics remain understudied. This thesis argues that in order to open this black box of interpersonal processes, we need to acknowledge that these are not your typical ‘work-team’ relationships. Rather, the extreme experience of entrepreneurship extends to extreme relational experience of team members. Just as entrepreneurs shake up the status quo with their fresh perspectives and new ideas, the uncertain, unstructured, emotional context of entrepreneurship shakes up the status quo of what we expect of team member relationships at work. Thus, if we hope to understand these teams and how they work together, we need new thinking and new theories that get at the heart of these extreme work relationships. 

This thesis consists of five papers and uses a mixed methods approach to examine how relational dynamics in founding teams are shaped by the context of entrepreneurship. The setting for the research is a university incubator in northern Europe where founding teams are accessed prior to incorporation, and often prior to team formation. The thesis puts forth a theoretical model that posits four main interconnected findings: (1) team member relationships act as a stand-in for organizational structures, (2) the context demands close relationships, (3) close relationship models such as the family fit to study and understand relational dynamics, and (4) the interaction context calls for interpersonal courage, intimacy, and a willingness to be vulnerable. Together the papers show that the emotionality of entrepreneurship stems not only from the characteristics of the context, but from the relationality of this unique kind of teamwork.

The thesis contributes to the entrepreneurship literature by challenging and shifting the way we see and study teams in this context, suggesting fresh perspectives and possible ways forward. In doing so, the thesis adds richness and depth to our understanding of this emotional and inherently social phenomenon, while shedding light on why some teams may fail while others stay the course.

family theory


close relationships


founding team

new venture team

Slottsskogen V2 - 2324
Opponent: Professor Siri Terjesen, Florida Atlantic University, USA


Pamela Nowell

Chalmers, Teknikens ekonomi och organisation, Entrepreneurship and Strategy

Organizational perspective on entrepreneurship

The Palgrave Handbook of Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Entrepreneurship,; (2018)p. 125-146

Kapitel i bok

Team Trust and Control in New Venture Emergence

International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behaviour and Research,; Vol. 24(2018)p. 882-910

Artikel i vetenskaplig tidskrift

Trust-control relationships in new venture teams during organizational emergence

FINT (First International Network on Trust) Conference, Dublin Ireland Nov. 16-18,; (2016)

Paper i proceeding

Nowell, P. (2021). The promise of family theory in understanding emotional and relational dynamics in new venture teams

Karlsson, T., & Nowell, P. (2020). Entrepreneurship education: Team composition in known worlds and new frontiers. Entrepreneurship Education and Pedagogy, Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.11 77/2515127420905890

Quality relationships among co-founders are important elements of start-up success

Some of the most common questions asked by entrepreneurs are ‘how do I find a co-founder’ and ‘how do I build a successful team’? Relationships take center stage in new ventures because founders want a hand to hold as they navigate the uncertain, emotional context of entrepreneurship. Relationships keep a start-up alive, and help it thrive as it develops over time. However, while entrepreneurs may expect the uncertainty, stress, and emotionality that comes with entrepreneurial life, many underestimate its relationality - the extent to which relationships matter in this context, and the relational work founders need to engage in. As scholars, we provide little help in this domain as we currently study these teams as typical work teams when their relational and emotional dynamics are anything but. In fact, the interpersonal processes of founding teams remain a largely unopened black box. This thesis advances our understanding of these teams by opening this black box. This book introduces a theoretical model and whole new perspective, family theory and close relationship science, that work to shift how we conceptualize, study, and support these teams. In doing so, this thesis sheds light on the emotional and relational dynamics of founding teamwork, and how team members can build the kind of relationships and relational skill sets they need to survive and thrive in their entrepreneurial endeavors.


Annan humaniora


Övrig annan teknik

Annan samhällsvetenskap



Innovation och entreprenörskap



Doktorsavhandlingar vid Chalmers tekniska högskola. Ny serie: 4955



Slottsskogen V2 - 2324


Opponent: Professor Siri Terjesen, Florida Atlantic University, USA

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