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William B. Rouse  + Rebecca K. Rouse

Understanding & Supporting Teams in the Performing Arts 

This article addresses the nature of teams and teamwork in the performing arts by contrasting such teams with those in business and operational domains.  This contrast is framed in terms of two levels of description – organization of teamwork and cognition of teamwork.  This framework yields hypotheses whose validation will provide theoretical foundations to common best practices in training ensemble teams in the performing arts.
Teams and teamwork have been concerns of great interest for several years, perhaps gaining impetus from the quality movement.  However, many proponents of team-oriented initiatives have found that success does not flow automatically from simple formation of teams.  As Hackman (1998) indicates, common mistakes in adopting team models can undermine anticipated success, often leading to frustration and perhaps cynicism.

Many of the studies of team performance and the determinants of performance have occurred in the context of business teams, e.g., (Hackman, 1998), and operational teams, e.g., (Klein, 2000; Paris, Salas & Cannon-Bowers, 2000).  This paper briefly reviews several of the main findings on these efforts.  This review provides an important foundation for consideration of teams in the performing arts.

Performing Arts
Little research appears to have been focused on teams in the context of performing arts.  This paper considers two classes of performing arts.  One class (C) is typified by orchestras where the team is led, i.e., conducted, during its performance.  Choral works, opera, and musical theatre appear to be akin to orchestras in the sense that the score and direction in its execution are central.

The second class (N) of performing arts is typified by non-musical, ensemble theatre where casts are usually much smaller and the director plays little if any role during performance.  This class would also appear to include jazz combos.  In this class, the performing artists are independent of a director or conductor during performances.

Teamwork in Performing Arts
This paper considers the notion of teamwork by first reviewing results of studies of business teams and operational teams.  This includes consideration of organizational aspects of teams (Hackman, 1998) and the cognition of teamwork (Klein, 2000).  Alternative theoretical perspectives on teamwork are reviewed and variables that typically affect team performance are discussed (Paris, Salas & Cannon-Bowers, 2000).

The notion of shared mental models is introduced in terms of the purpose and knowledge content of mental models (Rouse & Morris, 1986; Rouse, Cannon-Bowers & Salas, 1992).  It is argued that Class N teams of performing artists can benefit from support that enhances the knowledge content of shared mental models as defined by Figure 1.

Figure. 1. Knowledge Content of Shared Mental Models
Figure. 1. Knowledge Content of Shared Mental Models

We next consider orchestral teams, i.e., Class C, and discuss the factors that affect team performance (Allmendinger, Hackman & Lehman, 1996), especially the role of the conductor (Sciolino, 2001).  We show how organizational factors play a very significant role in the performance of Class C teams.

Finally, we consider ensemble teams, i.e., Class N, typified by straight theatre casts and jazz combos.  These teams are generally much smaller in size than those in Class C.  They usually range from 2 to 20 members and have little or no hierarchy among the performers.  Also the script or score is more likely to be viewed as a springboard for the artists – a guideline, not a procedure.

Figure 2 summarizes a wide range of exercises for training Class N teams in terms of the learning objectives of these exercises, some of which are drawn from  (Spolin, 1999), but most of which are drawn from common experience.  These exercises each take between 5 and 20 minutes and our most often employed during the first few days of the rehearsal period, after which the team often selects a handful of preferred exercises to be used a ritual before every rehearsal and performance.  Aside from accomplishing the objectives indicated in Figure 2, these exercises foster close personal relationships among team members.

Levels of Teamwork

Figure 3 integrates the foregoing to contrast the views of teamwork and types of teams discussed.  As can be seen, ensemble teams are similar to orchestral teams in that they both concern performing arts.  However, ensemble teams are similar to operational teams in terms of the level at which teamwork is best described.

Figure. 2. Training of Ensemble Teams
Figure. 2. Training of Ensemble Teams

Figure. 3. Levels of Teamwork
Figure. 3. Levels of Teamwork

Research Hypotheses
Consideration of Figures 1-3 led to three research hypotheses that are guiding our ongoing work in this area: We expect that exploration of these hypotheses will provide a theoretical basis for commonly observed "best practices" with ensemble theatre teams.  This may provide opportunities for migrating these practices to other cells in 
Figure 3.
Allmendinger, J., Hackman, J.R., & Lehman, E.V. (1996). Life and work in symphony orchestras. The Musical Quarterly, 80 (2), 194-219.

Hackman, J.R. (1998). Why teams don’t work. In R. Scott Tindale, Ed., Theory and Research on Small Groups (Chap. 12), New York: Plenum Press.

Klein, G. (2000). Cognitive task analysis of teams. In J.M.C. Schraagen, S.F. 
Chipman & V.J. Shalin, Eds., Cognitive Task Analysis (Chap. 25). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Paris, C.R., Salas, E., & Cannon-Bowers, J.A. (2000). Teamwork in multi-person systems: A review and analysis. Ergonomics, 43 (8), 1052-1075.

Rouse, W.B., Cannon-Bowers, J.A., & Salas, E. (1992).  The role of mental models in team performance in complex systems.  IEEE Transactions on Systems, Man, and Cybernetics, 22 (6), 1296-1307.

Rouse, W.B., & Morris, N.M. (1986).  On looking into the black box:  Prospects and limits in the search for mental models.  Psychological Bulletin, 100(3), 349-363.

Sciolino, E. (2001, July26). Allegro, andante, adagio and corporate harmony: A conductor draws management metaphors from musical teamwork. New York Times, B1 & 5.

Spolin, V. (1999). Improvisation for the theatre. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 3rd Edition.