Making Sense Through Face: Identity and Social Interaction in a Consultancy Task Force

Gerardo Patriotta, Simona Spedale

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Citations (SciVal)


In this article we investigate the dynamic connection between individual and social processes of sensemaking in the context of group-based interaction. Drawing on Goffman's theory of face-to-face behaviour, we develop two main arguments. First, the grounding of identity underlying group-based interaction typically involves repeated face games during which participants attempt to influence the patterns of interaction while maintaining a coherent image of self. Second, face games generate an 'interaction order' that has structuring properties and is therefore central to the social construction of sense within a group setting. We illustrate our contribution through an empirical study of face games and sensemaking within a consultancy task force. The study shows that the co-presence of participants during group-based interaction is in itself an occasion for sensemaking as it enacts language-based controversies that require composition through shared construction of meaning. In addition, our findings highlight that early impressions generate sticky patterns of interaction that constrain further exchanges and affect the development and outcomes of group sensemaking. A main implication is that positive outcomes of sensemaking are contingent upon the ability of the participants collectively to generate interaction orders that are conducive to working consensus. In this regard, sensegiving mechanisms such as leadership can constructively orient interaction amongs professionals by providing a common set of expectations about behaviours.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1227-1248
Number of pages22
JournalOrganization Studies
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 12 Nov 2009


  • Face
  • Group sensemaking
  • Interaction order
  • Social interaction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Strategy and Management
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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