How the show goes on: Using the aesthetic experience of collective performance to adapt while coordinating
Administrative Science Quarterly
Coordinating – especially in action groups – often consists of continuously adapting behaviors in response to fluctuating conditions. However, we know little about how, without the ability for explicit, real-time communication, action group members continuously perform local adaptations with limited disruption to their collective performance. Through an 18-month ethnography of how members of a community choir maintained beautiful, ongoing performance, I found that performers adapted their coordinating when they aesthetically experienced their collective performance as fragmented. Through processes of emotional signaling and aesthetic orienting (prospecting and distributing attention) performers adapted their experience of ongoing coordinating to facilitate awareness of both the local qualities of their actions, and the global qualities of their collective performance. Adaptations to their sensory experience grounded performers’ behavioral adaptations, helping them to re-establish heedful interrelating and an aesthetic experience of their collective performance as “whole.” By focusing on the experience of coordinating, this research illuminates how embodied forms of cognition more appropriately account for real-time adaptation than the abstracted, representational form of knowledge that dominates prior theory. The insights from this distinctive research setting arguably bear implications for a range of organizations engaged in complex action group work.