Management Team Mental Models
Katherine Hamilton
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 July 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846740-0165


Team mental models have been referred to as one of the most well-developed team-level cognitive constructs studied in applied psychology and organizational behavior. They represent the organization of shared knowledge among team members. Empirical results on team mental models have varied on the basis of the content and property of the mental model examined. Content has typically focused on taskwork and teamwork mental models in which taskwork mental models represent shared knowledge on procedures, strategies, the environment, and team equipment, whereas teamwork mental models represent shared knowledge on the coordination of team responsibilities and team members’ knowledge, skills, and abilities. More-specific forms of content are often discussed in the literature; these have included temporal, situational, strategic, team goal, and team membership mental models. Examining team mental models at a higher level of granularity has often uncovered significant effects that are masked when simply focusing on taskwork or teamwork content. The property of team mental models varies on the basis of its focus on similarity or accuracy. Similarity represents the degree of overlap in knowledge among team members, whereas accuracy represents the overlap between each team member and an expert. Results have shown that oftentimes the effect of team mental model similarity on team effectiveness is moderated by its accuracy. Empirical results also vary on the basis of how the construct is measured and indexed. The most popular measurement technique is paired comparison ratings due to its ability to evaluate both content and structure. Other measurement types include concept maps, card-sorting tasks, questionnaires, text analysis, and interviews. Indexing refers to the method used to aggregate ratings from the individual to the team. These methods can be classified as capturing either consistency (e.g., the closeness index used in Pathfinder) or agreement (e.g., Euclidean distances). Consistency metrics have been shown to more consistently predict team effectiveness but researchers should match their research question to their indexing approach. A variety of variables have been shown to predict team mental models, such as team-training interventions, team member characteristics, attributes of the work environment, and other team emergent states. Team mental models have also been linked to a host of outcomes, including increased team performance, innovation, collective efficacy, decision quality, and team learning. Key research needs for the field include the examination of the construct over time and the differentiation of the construct from other forms of team cognition.

General Overviews

There have been many reviews on the team mental model construct. These reviews span from the early 1990s to 2010. Cannon-Bowers, et al. 1993 helps define the construct, introduces the four different content types of team mental models, and highlights key areas for future research. Klimoski and Mohammed 1994 describes how team mental models are different from individual mental models. This article helps reduce the ambiguity around the amorphous nature that the construct has taken on in the field. Mohammed and Dumville 2001 distinguishes team mental models from similar forms of collective cognition. Mohammed, et al. 2010 provides an update on the review in Klimoski and Mohammed 1994. The authors highlight the key changes in the field and provide new theoretical and methodological needs. Mohammed, et al. 2000 reviews different measurement types and emphasizes the importance of matching the measurement type to the research question asked. Langan-Fox, et al. 2000 and Kraiger and Wenzel 1997 highlight the pros and cons of different measurement approaches.

  • Cannon-Bowers, Janis A., Eduardo Salas, and Sharolyn Converse. “Shared Mental Models in Expert Team Decision Making.” In Individual and Group Decision Making: Current Issues. Edited by N. John Castellan Jr., 221–246. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1993.

    This is a foundational article on team mental models. The chapter is often referenced for its breakdown of team mental models into four key content domains and for its description of methodological and theoretical research needs. Many of these research needs are still relevant in the early 21st century.

  • Klimoski, Richard, and Susan Mohammed. “Team Mental Model: Construct or Metaphor?” Journal of Management 20.2 (1994): 403–437.

    DOI: 10.1177/014920639402000206

    This article provides a clear description of what a team mental model is and what it is not. It was written in response to the ambiguity surrounding the construct in the early 1990s. Most importantly, it explains how a team mental model is different from an indvidual mental model.

  • Kraiger, Kurt, and Lucy Wenzel. “Conceptual Development and Empirical Evaluation of Measures of Shared Mental Models as Indicators of Team Effectiveness.” In Team Performance Assessment and Measurement: Theory, Methods, and Applications. Edited by Michael T. Brannick, Eduardo Salas, and Carolyn W. Prince, 63–84. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1997.

    Classifies team mental model measures according to their abilities to assess how teams process information, organize information, share attitudes, and share expectations. The authors also propose a set of antecedents and outcomes of team mental models. The antecedents range from environmental to individual-level predictors.

  • Langan-Fox, Janice, Sharon Code, and Kim Langfield-Smith. “Team Mental Models: Techniques, Methods, and Analytic Approaches.” Human Factors 42.2 (2000): 242–271.

    DOI: 10.1518/001872000779656534

    The authors review a wide variety of measurement approaches and describe their strengths and weaknesses. They also present a set of guidelines describing when to use each approach, on the basis of one’s research question, sample, and theoretical assumptions.

  • Mohammed, Susan, and Brad C. Dumville. “Team Mental Models in a Team Knowledge Framework: Expanding Theory and Measurement across Disciplinary Boundaries.” Journal of Organizational Behavior 22.2 (2001): 89–106.

    DOI: 10.1002/job.86

    This review helps position team mental models within the collective cognition construct domain. It does this by illustrating how they differ from commonly studied forms of collective cognition, such as information sharing, transactive memory, group learning, and cognitive consensus. The authors also propose how researchers can integrate these topics.

  • Mohammed, Susan, Lori Ferzandi, and Katherine Hamilton. “Metaphor No More: A 15-Year Review of the Team Mental Model Construct.” Journal of Management 36.4 (2010): 876–910.

    DOI: 10.1177/0149206309356804

    This article highlights the theoretical and empirical developments on team mental models since the seminal review in Klimoski and Mohammed 1994. One of the most valuable contributions of this paper is the areas of future research proposed regarding the conceptualization, measurement, outcomes, and predictors of team mental models.

  • Mohammed, Susan, Richard Klimoski, and Joan R. Rentsch. “The Measurement of Team Mental Models: We Have No Shared Schema.” Organizational Research Methods 3.2 (2000): 123–165.

    DOI: 10.1177/109442810032001

    In this review, the authors highlight the nuances associated with measuring team mental models. They use several criteria to compare Pathfinder, multidimensional scaling, interactively elicited cognitive mapping, and text-based cognitive mapping measures. Most importantly, they underscore the need to match the measurement type to the research question asked.

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