Team Mental Models: Techniques, Methods, and Analytic Approaches

By Langan-Fox, Janice; Code, Sharon et al. | Human Factors, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview

Team Mental Models: Techniques, Methods, and Analytic Approaches


Langan-Fox, Janice, Code, Sharon, Langfield-Smith, Kim, Human Factors


Effective team functioning requires the existence of a shared or team mental model among members of a team. However, the best method for measuring team mental models is unclear. Methods reported vary in terms of how mental model content is elicited and analyzed or represented. We review the strengths and weaknesses of various methods that have been used to elicit, represent, and analyze individual and team mental models and provide recommendations for method selection and development. We describe the nature of mental models and review techniques that have been used to elicit and represent them. We focus on a case study on selecting a method to examine team mental models in industry. The processes involved in the selection and development of an appropriate method for eliciting, representing, and analyzing team mental models are described. The criteria for method selection were (a) applicability to the problem under investigation; (b) practical considerations - suitability for collecting data from the targeted research sample; and (c) theoretical rationale - the assumption that associative networks in memory are a basis for the development of mental models. We provide an evaluation of the method matched to the research problem and make recommendations for future research. The practical applications of this research include the provision of a technique for analyzing team mental models in organizations, the development of methods and processes for eliciting a mental model from research participants in their normal work environment, and a survey of available methodologies for mental model research.

INTRODUCTION

In the past decade many organizations have come to rely on teams in a variety of different decision-making and management contexts (Coates, 1996; Jacobs & James, 1994; Kozlowski, 1995; Magney, 1995; Marchington, Wilkinson, Ackers, & Goodman, 1994). Teams can take the form of autonomous work groups, labor management committees, product development teams, special purpose decision-making teams, management teams, or employee participation teams. Teams are often used as a means of increasing the level of industrial democracy - that is, to encourage "the significant involvement of workers in important workplace decisions that affect their everyday lives" (Davis & Lansbury, 1996, p. 23).

According to past research, effective team functioning requires the existence of a shared or team mental model among members of a team (Cannon-Bowers, Tannenbaum, Salas, & Volpe, 1995; Converse, Cannon-Bowers, & Salas, 1991; Duffy, 1992). In fact, some organizations purposefully seek to influence the development of a team mental model. Researchers in a variety of disciplines have sought to elicit and represent mental models. These include education (Morine-Dershimer, Saunders, Artiles, & Mostert, 1992; Winitzky, Kauchak, & Kelly, 1994), aviation (Cannon-Bowers, Salas, & Converse, 1993; Rouse,

Cannon-Bowers, & Salas, 1992), and organizational/management settings (Daniels, de Chernatony, & Johnson, 1995; Langfield-Smith & Wirth, 1992). However, the best method for elicitation and representation is unclear.

Methods reported in the literature vary in terms of how mental model content is elicited (e.g., verbal protocol analysis, repertory grid) and analyzed or represented (e.g., ordered tree and scaling techniques). Furthermore, differing notions of mental models have led to some confusion about their conceptual underpinning (Klimoski & Mohammed, 1994). This presents a problem for the researcher attempting to use valid and reliable methods. The purpose of this paper is to review the strengths and weaknesses of various methods that have been used to elicit, represent, and analyze individual and team mental models and to provide guidelines for method selection and development in mental models research.

In part 1 we describe the nature of mental models and provide a review of the techniques that have been used to elicit and represent them. …

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