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CoDesign, Vol. 3, No.

1, March 2007, 75 94

Shared mental modelslinking team cognition

and performance

{Department of Psychology II, University of Bamberg, Weide 18,

96047 Bamberg, Germany
{DaimlerChrysler, Data and Process Management (GR/EPD),
Ulm, Germany
xFaculty of Industrial Design Engineering, Delft University of Technology,
The Netherlands

(Received 29 October 2006; in final form 30 November 2006)

In order to meet the increasingly complex demands of design in multi-

disciplinary teams, designers have to interact and thereby to interweave their
mental models (MM). Yet, neither is it clear which content of MM should
be shared to perform design tasks eectively, nor is the process of the
development of shared mental models (SMM) quite understood. The two
studies presented in this article were conducted to gain insights into the
cognitive processes of designers working together in a team, and to clarify the
impact of SMM on team performance. Process-oriented research strategies
were applied to groups of mechanical engineering students and to multi-
disciplinary project teams in the automobile industry. The results indicated
that not the SMM of the whole group but the SMM of subgroups were
related to group performance. Moreover, this link to performance is only
supported by the SMM about team members skills (SMMteam) and about the
process of interaction (SMMprocess). As a conclusion of the latter result, more
attention should be paid to the development of common knowledge about
group interaction and team members abilities in the everyday work life of
project teams. In addition, observational data showed that motivational
aspects like the feeling of competence should be considered when analysing
the influence of SMM. Finally, a conceptualisation of the development and
interplay of mental submodels is proposed.

Keywords: Shared mental models; Complex problem-solving; Process-

oriented research; Multidisciplinary design teams

*Corresponding authors. Email: reimer.bierhals@ppp.uni-bamberg.de;

ISSN 1571-0882 Print/ISSN 1745-3755 online 2007 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/15710880601170891
76 R. Bierhals et al.

1. Introduction
While previous research on shared mental models (SMM) has mainly been conducted in
domains in which structured tasks are prevailing, such as military command and control
teams (Athans 1982) or cockpit crews (Foushee and Manos 1981, Orasanu 1990, Prince
et al. 1992), the application of SMM research to the domain of product development is a
rather new approach, which requires new research strategies (see Badke-Schaub et al.,
this issue). Contrary to structured tasks, design tasks are characterised by vagueness of
the goal state, absence of standard procedures, and a dynamically changing situation.
Due to these factors, designers thinking processes have to be investigated from the
theoretical perspective of complex problem-solving. Because the initial situation typically
changes dynamically during the design process, it becomes necessary to investigate SMM
in design with process-oriented research methods.
As another consequence of the complexity of design tasks, modern work organisation
centres on multidisciplinary design teams. In these teams, communication of task-related
information and the coordination of individual activities gain in importance. In order to
meet these demands, team members have to share their individual representations of
relevant features of the task and the process of task achievement.

2. Theoretical background
2.1 Design tasks as complex problems
Many authors highlight that the work of designers has structural similarities to complex
problem solving (Badke-Schaub and Buerschaper 2001, Badke-Schaub and Frankenberger
2004, Hacker 1997, v.d. Weth 1987). Engineers working in the domain of product
development have to deal with complex tasks, which are characterised by multiple factors of
influence, high connectivity of the relevant variables, high levels of intransparency, and they
often have to operate under high time pressure (Dorner, 1996). Ehrlenspiel (1995)
emphasises the major challenge of conflicting goals as an ingredient of the designers
everyday working life. The well-known example for conflicting goals is the magic triangle of
cost, time and quality; the cheapest and quickest way to design a product does not
necessarily result in the highest product quality.
Plenty of research has been dedicated to studying the thinking and acting processes of
designers (see e.g. Badke-Schaub and Frankenberger 1999, Gunther and Ehrlenspiel
1999). As one result of this field of research, Badke-Schaub (2002) developed a model of
demand characteristics of complex problem solving in a social context, based on
Dorners (1996) stages of action regulation. It emphasises the importance of both, task
related problem solving activities (displayed in the right section of figure 1) and activities
that refer to the group organisation. As the arrows between the two sections in figure 1
underscore, task- and team-orientated activities are highly interdependent. A team
cannot be successful if it only deals with task-related activities such as planning and
decision-making. It also has to concentrate on coordination, information management,
group structure and stabilisation, which means conflict resolution and the establishment
of a functional team climate. For example, a group in which the responsibilities among
its members are not clarified has problems to progress with the collection and
integration of data.
The process of problem-solving in groups is primarily about interlinking and exchan-
ging information. Design information can be transferred by various representations, such
Shared mental models 77

Figure 1. Demand characteristics of complex problems in a social context.

as verbal, written, sketches or electronic data. However, the information processing is a

mental process in the designers mind (Lawson 2006). As there is no direct access to the
designers thoughts, mental representations have to be approached indirectly by the
analysis of verbal utterances.
Moreover, not only is the process of exchanging and storing information of
interest, but also the quality of information that has to be represented. Stempfle and
Badke-Schaub (2002) suggest a dierentiation between information that refers to the
content of the task and information that corresponds to the organisation of
teamwork. This distinction is reflected in the theoretical dierentiation of mental
models (MM).

2.2 Types of SMM

Researchers agree that teams do not simply share one monolithic MM (see Klimoski and
Mohammed 1994). Instead, Cannon-Bowers et al. (1993) propose four types of MM:
equipment model, task model, team interaction model and team member model. Other
authors point out that these four submodels can be viewed as reflecting two major content
domains: task-related knowledge and team-related knowledge (Espinosa and Carley 2001,
Mathieu et al. 2000, Rentsch and Hall 1994). This distinction is in line with the approach
of complex problem solving research (Badke-Schaub 2002), focusing on the task-
related characteristics on the one hand, and the group-related on the other (see figure 1).
In addition to the already mentioned types of MM, Peterson et al. (2000) emphasise the
importance of motivational aspects and their representation among team members. They
draw upon Banduras (1977, 1997) concept of self-ecacy and define group ecacy as
the groups anticipation that it will do well on a particular task (p. 298). This aspect is
considered in approaches that propose a competence model in addition (e.g. Neumann
et al. 2006). Cohen et al. (1998) assert the necessity for team members to build up a meta-
recognition model (see also Tschan and Semmer 2001) in which an outline of the missing
information is represented. In this view, a group has to know what it does not know yet
to structure its planning process.
78 R. Bierhals et al.

2.3 Sharedness and performance

When researching the nature of SMM and their impact on team performance, it is
notable that the definition of the concept shared is not unitary (Cannon-Bowers and
Salas 2001; see Badke-Schaub et al., this issue). The variety of comprehensions is
apparent in the interface model by Rentsch and Hall (1994) displayed in figure 2.
Team members A, B and C can either hold knowledge that is exactly identical, which is
indicated as the common core within the model, denoted by SMM. Further, cognition
may also be shared only between some members. This alternative is displayed as the
overlap of individual models, denoted by AB, AC and BC. The last alternative concerns
knowledge that is apportioned across team members without any intersection. This
phenomenon refers to the concept of group diversity (van Knippenberg and Schippers
2006), which is a characteristic of many high-performance teams. These teams have to
deal with systems and tasks, which are so complex that it would be impossible and
counterproductive for any single team member to hold all the knowledge required to cope
with the problem.
There is evidence that the convergence of the individual models has positive impact on
performance in military command teams (e.g. Mathieu et al. 2000, Stout et al. 1999), but
also contrary findings have been reported in other research domains. Levesque et al.
(2001), for example, examined the development of SMM in software development teams
that temporary worked together and found thatcontrary to their predictionsteam
members MM about the work and about each others expertise did not become more
similar over time. The authors concluded that this finding is attributable to a decrease in
team members interaction in the course of time, based on increasing role dierentiation
in team.
Obviously, the common assumption cannot be held that a higher amount of identical
individual mental models necessarily leads to better performance. Especially in high-
performance multidisciplinary teams a higher amount of knowledge specialisation among
team members can facilitate team performance. Summing up, it depends on the specific
task, the composition of the team and the organisation of teamwork, which degree of
sharedness of individual MM leads to better performance.
In an early study, Walsh et al. (1988) pointed out the importance of social interaction
processes for the impact that MM have in a group context. According to their findings, it
is not the potential overlap of mental representation that is crucial to performance, but
the belief structures that are negotiated and realised in decisions.

Figure 2. Interface model by Rentsch and Hall (1994).

Shared mental models 79

2.4 Measurement approaches

Aiming to assess SMM, the group context must be considered. This could be taken into
account in two dierent ways. Cooke et al. (2000) distinguished an aggregated and a
holistic approach to measurement. In the aggregated perspective (they call it collective
approach) team cognition is viewed as a conglomerate of the individual MM. This
approach centres on each team member first, whose data are subsequently aggregated to
a group model by comparing them with the data of the other group participants. In
contrast, the holistic approach considers SMM as a consequence of the interaction
process in the group. In this regard, team cognition is more than just the sum of the
individual MM. The two studies, presented in this paper, incorporated both measurement
approaches (figure 3).

3. Objectives and research strategy

Two studies were conducted in order to analyse the development of SMM in design teams
and the impact of these models on team performance. The studies build on each other
and set dierent focal points. The first study acts as a general explorative approach and
investigates SMM in the context of a team of mechanical engineering students taking part
in a design methodology course. The second study explores SMM in more detail in
multidisciplinary project teams in the automobile industry.
While the first study distinguishes in general between the domains task and team, the
second study breaks down these two main dimensions into four submodels: task, process,
team member, and competence. The first three models are similar to the conception of
Cannon-Bowers et al. (1993). The task model represents strategies, constraints of the
situation, and assumptions about the relations of cause and eect of the actual problem.
The process model refers to the responsibilities and roles of the team members, their
interaction patters, and the sources of information. The team member model includes

Figure 3. Research strategies of both studies.

80 R. Bierhals et al.

knowledge about team members skills, abilities, capacities, attitudes and interests.
Finally, the competence model refers to team members estimation of self-ecacy, self-
esteem, and motivation of the team.
As discussed in the introduction, both studies approach the construct of SMM from a
process-oriented perspective. This means that the focus is on group interaction and its
development over time rather than exclusively on the results or products of the design process.
Furthermore, both studies adopt aggregated and holistic strategies (Cooke et al. 2000,
see figure 3). Both strategies are necessary because researchers do not have direct access
to designers thinking processes. Instead, they have to approach the construct of SMM in
an indirect way: One possibility is to ask each designer of a team what he or she is
thinking and then to compare the answers with regard to similarities. The overlap of the
answers could be taken as a clue for the sharedness of individual MM (aggregated
approach). Both studies adopt the aggregated research strategy by employing
questionnaires in order to gather information about team members MM. Individual
data are aggregated either by computing means, standard deviations, and variances,
which can be seen as a clue for the sharedness of individual concepts (study I), or by using
the distance-ratio method, proposed by Espinosa and Carley (2001) (study II).
Another option to study SMM is the analysis of verbal interaction, assuming that
communication in teams provides an access to the thinking process. This approach
applies a holistic view because it does not centre on the individual action but on cause and
eect of all group members interplay. In order to realise the holistic view both studies
conduct qualitative research strategies such as categorisation and descriptive observation
(figure 3, right section). Based on the theoretical background of complex problem-
solving, the categorisation system KATKOMP (table 1) is used, which was developed to
categorise complex problem-solving in teams (Stempfle and Badke-Schaub 2002). It is
assumed that designers working together in a team have to deal with the design task itself,
but also have to engage in organising the group process. Thus, KATKOMP distinguishes
three main foci of action, called content, process and interpersonal relations. Both
content and process include a set of main categories, which are related to the demands of
problem-solving (Dorner 1996) and design methodology (e.g. Pahl and Beitz 1995). These
categories are subdivided on a third level into observational codes.
In the following section, the methods and results of the two studies will be presented
and discussed separately for each study before integrating the findings in a comprehensive

Table 1. Structure of the categorisation system KATKOMP.

Focus Category

Content Goal clarification

Solution generation
Information management
Process Planning
Information management
Interpersonal relations Expression of emotions
Shared mental models 81

4. Study I
Study 1 was conducted at the Technical University of Munich in order to gain insights
into the development of cognitive processes of engineering students during a design
methodology course. The course was designed for ten participants and was conducted as
a weekly seminar for 10 weeks, each session lasting 6 7 hours. During the sessions
dierent design methods were taught by three supervisors and applied to a design task of
a mechanical concept for a table vacuum cleaner. The second author, a trained
psychologist, took part in each session as non-participating observer.

4.1 Aim of study I

The aim of the study was to investigate whether and what kind of SMM developed
among team members during the 10-week methodological training course and how this
development would take place. Moreover, the influencing factors of the development of
SMM were of interest.

4.2 Methods
Following the holistic approach, the construct of SMM was assessed by analysing the
communication of the group. The whole design process was monitored and videotaped.
The observed interactions were analysed by categorising all communicative acts that
occurred during the design process. For this purpose a slightly modified version of the
categorisation system KATKOMP (Stempfle and Badke-Schaub 2002, see table 1)
was employed. In order to gather information about common task-related knowledge
structures held by the team members, the centre of the analysis was on the category
information management within the focus content, which is on a third level
subdivided into simple and complex information management. Simple information
management means the collection and transfer of facts, whereas the category complex
information management includes operations that point out relations between variables,
such as establishment of relations of cause and eect on the one hand and relations in
terms of categorical membership on the other hand, a dierentiation already made by
Collins and Loftus (1975). Table 2 displays the category information management within
the focus content.
We assumed that a group needs less coordination as a consequence of common task
related knowledge structures. Supposedly, team members could integrate new informa-
tion into already existing knowledge patterns without communicating explicitly. Thus,
the statistical analysis focuses on the distribution of the two dierent types of complex
information management comparing the phases during the beginning and the end of the
design process by the calculation of w2-tests.

Table 2. Information management within the categorisation system KATKOMP.

Focus Category Operation

Content ... ...

Information management Relations of cause and eect
Categorical membership
... ...
82 R. Bierhals et al.

In addition, a questionnaire was employed, which every team member was asked to fill
in after each training session, in order to gain insights into the participants individual
MM and their development over time. In a second step, individual data were aggregated
by computing means and variances.
The Questionnaire on Team Work (F-A-T) by Kaueld and Frieling (2001) was
applied. It contains two scales person and structure, which assess SMM concerning the
team and the task. The scale person consists of the subscales cohesion and sense of
responsibility, and the scale structure includes the subscales goal and task. Levenes
test on Homogeneity of Variances was conducted, as the decrease of variances of
scales and subscales at the end of the process can be seen as an indication for the
development of common representations of content-related and team-related knowledge.

4.3 Results
Results from the holistic approach are shown in figure 4, which depicts the frequencies of
the two dierent types of complex information management at the beginning and at the
end of the process.
A statistically significant decrease of utterances of cause and eect was found. This
means that group members spent less eort in explaining how information is related to
each other in the course of time. Additionally, a statistically significant increase of
sentences about categorical membership of specific information could be registered at the
end of the design process. Thus, group members were able to suborder new information
into already existing categories.
Table 3 shows the results from the aggregated research strategy. The variances of both
scales person and structure decreased at the end of the design process. However, the
decrease was not found to be statistically significant possibly due to the limited number of
observed cases. Analysis at the subscale level showed that variances decreased for the
subscales cohesion and goal at the end of the process, but the opposite occurred for the
subscales responsibility and task.

4.4 Conclusions of study I

If we interpret the findings from the holistic approach, it is plausible to assume that the
team members developed common task-related knowledge during the design process that
is organised in terms of categories. Holding these common knowledge structures, it
oftentimes became unnecessary to communicate relations between variables explicitly.

Figure 4. Frequencies of the two dierent types of complex information management.

Shared mental models 83

Table 3. Alteration of variances of scales and subscales of the questionnaire F-A-T from the
beginning to the end of design process.

SCALES Beginning End Alteration *F p SUBSCALES Beginning End Alteration *F p

Person 0.27 0.22 # 0.78 0.78 Cohesion 0.31 0.21 # 0.24 0.63
Responsibility 0.10 0.19 " 0.87 0.37
Structure 0.29 0.20 # 1.83 0.18 Goal 0.36 0.05 # 2.87 0.11
Task 0.18 0.22 " 0.08 0.78

*F: statistical value of Levenes test on Homogeneity of Variances.

Relevant information could be subordered to already existing patterns that represent all
variables belonging to a subject as well as the relations between them.
The decrease of variances of both scales person and structure at the end of the design
process can be seen as a clue for the development of common ideas about the team and
the task among the team members. On the subscale level interpretation of the findings
becomes more complicated: While there are clues for the development of common
understanding about the goal and the cohesion in team, team members seemed to have
dierent ideas about the task and their fields of responsibility at the end of the design
process. Taking into account the fact that participants arranged their duties by division of
labour in the course of the process, which means every team member evolved his own
field of responsibility over the 10 sessions of the training course, the findings are not so
surprising. This interpretation is consistent with the conclusion of Levesque et al. (2001)
who found a similar result in their study of software development teams (see section 2.3).
An alternative interpretation would be the assumption that diverging ideas about the
task and the fields of responsibility could be due to deficits in team members motivation,
which typically occur at the end of a long-lasting process, or due to emotional aspects
such as unresolved interpersonal conflicts.
In conclusion, it has to be stated that the mere focus on team cognition is missing two
further aspects, the consideration of motivational and emotional processes.

5. Study II
So far, our conclusions are based on investigating SMM of student groups, which can only
be seen a starting point because student groups are not a representative sample of work
teams. The demands of work groups in the industry are much more complex than an
assignment for students. Teams in industry are typically exposed to a broader variety of
influences that impact the work process and task-related decisions. Without taking these
context parameters into account, it is not possible to adequately study SMM as team
cognition depends on the specific task characteristics (Kraiger and Wenzel 1997, Levine
and Moreland 1999, Mohammed et al. 2000, see also Badke-Schaub et al., this issue).
In order to address the importance of task characteristics, a preliminary study of the
demands of project teams in an R&D department was conducted. These results were
utilised for the design of a simulation game, which served as means to study the
development of SMM in teams.

5.1 Analysis of work demands and development of a tool to study SMM

In the pre-study, information about impact factors on the work of multidisciplinary
design teams was analysed with 14 semi-structured interviews at the DaimlerChrysler
84 R. Bierhals et al.

Research Centre in Ulm, Germany. The engineers and managers who participated in the
interviews (each lasted 1.5 h) were asked about the problems the members of a
multidisciplinary design team mainly have during their cooperation in the project, about
the general conditions of collaboration, about the interaction with clients and system
partners, and about the interest groups that aect the project. Other topics were causes of
conflicts in the team, premises for decisions, complex problem solving, and group
On the basis of the demands reported in the interviews, a complex gaming simulation
for groups called DesertConstruction (Bierhals 2006), was created as a tool for exploring
the SMM of real work life teams. The use of a simulation game has several advantages
to a field study. For example, it is possible to condense processes that in reality would last
much longer. Thus, it can be ensured that critical aspects of collaboration in project
teams can be observed, because they can be timed as part of the gaming simulation.
DesertConstruction can be viewed as a microcosm of a variety of situations project
groups may face in reality, because it incorporates external influences on the project team
as well as the development of diverse interests of individual team members. The gaming
simulation lasts 2 h (without introduction) and is very complex and challenging, mainly
because of high time pressure and uncertainty. The scenario is situated in Libya, where
the three participants take over the roles of contractors, handle several individual and
joint projects simultaneously and try to find water reservoirs in the Sahara as a

5.2 Sample
The sample consists of 24 employees of DaimlerChrysler in Ulm and Berlin. Half of them
were engineers of dierent disciplines (e.g. mechanical engineers, computer scientists and
electrical engineers); the other 12 participants were managers who cover three dierent
levels of hierarchy. They acted as three-person teams during six time periods (weeks) in
the gaming simulation.

5.3 Aim and method

Study II aimed to clarify the influence of SMM on team performance (figure 5). Therefore
the development of SMM over the course of time was analysed. Furthermore, the study
focused on the question whether the whole group or just dyads of group members need to
establish identical MM in order to aect performance.
In view of the complexity of the construct (Kraiger and Wenzel 1997) the evalua-
tion follows a multi-method design (figure 5). SMM were assessed by two dierent
approaches, aggregated and holistic.

5.3.1 Aggregated approach. The participants were asked twice for self-ratings of items
related to the assumed four sub-models task, process, team member, and competence.
Thus, it was possible to compare participants answers over time (a comparison was not
intended for items concerning the competence model). A questionnaire was developed
which comprises 44 items such as My group knows exactly which strategy leads to
success (task), All responsibilities are clarified among team members (process), I am
aware of the intentions and interests of my team mates (team member), and I expect that
we will improve our performance (competence). Fourteen items were identical at both
times of measurement.
Shared mental models 85

Figure 5. Multi-methodical research strategy of study II.

The self-ratings were pooled into an SMM score by the means of the distance ratio
method, proposed by Espinosa and Carley (2001). This method is based on the idea of
Rentsch and Hall (1994, figure 2), that group cognition is a result of dyadic knowledge
similarities in the team. In this regard, SMM are considered as identical core, as
intersection of all pair-wise similarities. Therefore, this method used the distances
between the ratings of each pair of team members rather than individual ratings of each
participant for aggregation (figure 6). A similarity score was computed by discounting
each pairwise distance from the largest possible distance of the scale. The similarities were
summed up and transformed into a score between 0.3 and 1.0.
The purpose of the SMM scores was to serve as criteria for assessing the impact of the
convergence of individual MM on group performance. Hence, the scores were compared
with the monetary results in the gaming simulation. Correlations were not only calculated
for the whole group (group level) but also for each pair of group members (dyadic level).

5.3.2 Holistic approach. Three groups were chosen as case studies for analysing the
process of complex problem solving in the gaming simulation in detail. Using video tapes,
the team with the highest (G1 in table 4) and the one with lowest SMM score (G6) were
observed in order to gather information about the process of sharing knowledge and
assumptions. Group interaction was evaluated with a descriptive observation system
(DOS; Starke, 2005) to mark the relevant behaviour of team members and to depict the
specific situation when the behaviour occurs. DOS provides criteria to assess the activities
that lead to good performance. The quantity of criteria a group meets is an indication for
the quality of its problem-solving process. This proceeding adopts the holistic approach
as the causal determination of team members behaviour and its impact on team
performance was analysed in the course of time. The SMM scores were also used as
criteria for the selection of groups as case studies in the holistic approach.
86 R. Bierhals et al.

Figure 6. Distance ratio method according to Espinosa and Carley (2001).

On a more abstract level, the communication of the group was also categorised using
KATKOMP (Stempfle and Badke-Schaub 2002). The code sequences of KATKOMP
were assessed with lag sequential analysis (Bakeman and Gottman 1986) as the succession
of speech among the team members (figure 5, right section). By comparing the dierences
and similarities in the problem solving processes of these two cases, hypotheses about the
development of SMM were developed and then tested using the results of a third case.
The third case (G7 in table 4) was one of two outliners (G7 and G2), because the group
had a high SMM score but a low performance result in the gaming simulation. The
outliner was selected, because the case did not support the hypothesis that high SMM
leads to high performance.

5.4 Results
5.4.1 Results of the aggregated approach. The mean value of the overall SMM scores
(SMMall) on the group level was 0.75 (SD 0.07) with a range of 0.22 (table 4, last two
rows). The highest score of all submodels averaged out 0.78 for the team member model

Table 4. Distribution of aggregated SMM scores and of the submodels task, process, team
member, and competence on the group level.

Group SMM_all SMM_task SMM_process SMM_team SMM_comp

~ Gl 0,84 0,82 0,87 0,85 0,81
G2 0,74 0,72 0,71 0,83 0,67
G3 0,77 0,77 0,73 0,80 0,80
*Best results G4 0,77 0,73 0,80 0,80 0,72
G5 0,75 0,75 0,74 0,73 0,80
G6 0,61 0,65 0,63 0,63 0,61
G7 0,80 0,71 0,76 0,88 0,82
G8 0,74 0,78 0,65 0,75 0,77
M 0,75 0,74 0,74 0,78 0,75
SD 0,07 0,05 0,08 0,08 0,08
Sub models

*The groups are ordered according to the monetary results in the gaming simulation. SMM scores higher
than 0.79 are marked.
Shared mental models 87

(SMMteam, SD 0.08). The dierence between the SMMall scores of the three most
successful teams (Top 3: 0.78, SD 0.05) and the three least successful teams in the
gaming simulation (Bottom 3: 0.72, SD 0.10) was not significant. The scores of
SMMteam were the only ones that dier significantly from SMMall (T 2.31; df 7;
p 0.03). Successful teams had higher scores for SMMteam than less successful teams. In
contrast, the high scores of the competence model (SMMcomp) were the most evenly
distributed of all submodels.
A significant positive correlation between SMMall and the monetary result in the
gaming simulation as a marker for performance was found on the dyadic level (r 0.36;
p 5 0.05) but not the group level. The positive relation between dyadic-SMM and
performance was only supported by the team member model (SMMteam, r 0.44;
p 5 0.05) and the process model (SMMprocess: r 0.38; p 5 0.05) and not by the task
model (SMMtask) and the competence model (SMMcomp).
Although there was a significant relation between dyadic SMMprocess, respectively
SMMteam and performance, a dierence in the dispersion of the dyadic SMM scores of
Top 3 and Bottom 3 teams could only be determined for SMMteam (Siegel Tukey test:
T 112; p 5 0.05). Therefore, SMMteam appears to play a more important role in the
linkage between team cognition and performance than SMMprocess.
Furthermore, a significant increase of sharedness over time could only be detected on
the dyadic level (SMMall: T 2.8; df 23; p 5 0.05). It is backed exclusively by the
submodels SMMteam (T 3.3; df 23; p 5 0.01) and SMMprocess (T 1.9; df 23;
p 5 0.05), and not by SMMtask.
With regard to the mean value of the individual ratings of group members (not the
aggregated value), the ranks of the monetary results correlate significantly negative with
the mean ratings of the groups (r 70.77; p 5 0.05). Thus, successful teams had higher
ratings on average than less successful teams. Also the amount of items edited by the
participants diered: Significantly more items were completed in Top 3 than in Bottom
3 teams (T 7.4; df 4; p 5 0.01).

5.4.2 Results for the holistic approach. In this section results for the holistic approach
are reported concerning the amount of communication, patterns of speech succession,
and the interaction process assessed by DOS.
Overall, 3647 interacts were coded with KATKOMP for all three case studies.
Communication rates added up to 10.9 interacts per minute in G1 (group with high SMM
and high result in the gaming simulation), 10.3 in G7 (group with high SMM and low
result), and 8.1 interacts per minute in G6 (group with low SMM and low result). The
dierence in the rate between G1, respectively, G7 and G6 was significant (G1 4 G6:
T 2.8, df 10, p 5 0.05; G7 4 G6: T 1.9, df 10, p 5 0.05); the dierence between
G1 and G7 was not significant. In all three groups communication rates increased
between the first three and the last three weeks of the gaming simulation (G1: 23%;
G6: 19%; G7: 24%) which can be explained with the enhancing demands in the game
in the course of time.
As figure 7 illustrates, the amount of verbal contributions in the group discussion was
distributed significantly less balanced among the team members of G6, the team with low
SMM-score, than among the members of G1 and G7, both teams with high SMM-score
(ANOVA: F 7.5, df 2, p 5 0.01; G1 5 G6: T 72.2, df 10, p 5 0.01; G7 5 G6:
T 74.1, df 10, p 5 0.01). The dierence between G1 and G7 was not significant. A
closer look into the data revealed that (contrary to G1 and G7) the communication in G6
was mainly dominated by one single person.
88 R. Bierhals et al.

Figure 7. Overall dierence in the amount of interacts between the members of a team.

For the lag sequential analysis of speech succession, the transitional probabilities were
calculated and tested against the expected value. Transitional probability means the
probability that a particular team member takes turn directly after a given team member
has spoken. The results indicate for G1, respectively, G7 one dyad during the complete
gaming simulation that reacts directly on each other (marked in figure 8 with bold
arrows). In G6, such a dyad could only be identified in the second half of the gaming
simulation but not during the whole period. Instead, the communication of this group
was dominated by significantly rare transition probabilities. This means that there was no
pattern of systematic interaction between dierent group members detectable. Participant
C tended to monologise and added significantly frequent another contribution to the
communication directly after he had already spoken. As the analysis with DOS
(descriptive observation system) indicates, A and B acted more often jointly in the second
half of the gaming simulation. As a consequence, there were significantly frequent
transitions between these two participants in this time period.
The frequently interacting dyads of all three groups did neither have a higher SMM
score in general nor did they share any kind of submodel.
The observational data collected with DOS underscore dierences between the groups
in information management, division of work, culture of interaction, motivation, and the
tolerance for frustration. Concerning information management, the groups vary in the
ability to realise the distributed information among the group members (see Stasser and
Titus 1985, Wittenbaum and Stasser 1996). Additionally, the successful team G1 was
more engaged to visualise important data in order to establish a common comprehension.
It did not only visualise data once but also worked on the visualisation in later periods of

Figure 8. Speech succession pattern within the groups as result of the lag sequential
analysis during the whole gaming period. (a) Digits in front of the slashes: transition
probability. (b) Digits behind the slashes: z-scores.
Shared mental models 89

time. While in G1 group members were anxious to share the workload and to arrange
duties, the participants of G6 and G7 performed more tasks conjointly.
Furthermore, the successful group G1 showed more awareness for the own knowledge
gaps; thus the group requested actively missing information, and reflected on its own
process of problem solving and group organisation. Contrary to G1, the less successful
groups G6 and G7 did not regard central variables of the gaming simulation. Instead, these
groups had problems to establish a functional culture of interaction with reciprocal
personal esteem, constructive criticism, democratic decision structure, and sense of
community as relevant components. One member of G6 lacked motivation, which impeded
the group process and exacerbated the other team members. Beyond it, the self-ecacy
(Bandura 1977, 1997) of all group members of G6 decreased after failure. As a consequence,
this group stopped yielding for alliance and further addressed itself to more facile but less
profitable tasks. A strong tendency for confirmation was found in G7 while the team
members coincidently showed low tolerance for uncertainty. After failure this group did not
spend much time in analysing the situation. Instead, simple solutions that did not reflect all
constraints were quickly accepted by all team members. They did not regard information
that was not in line with the intended solution. A participant who expressed an alternative
view gave up his opinion at once without explaining it and joint to the majority view.

5.5 Conclusions of study II

The significant relation between dyadic SMM scores and team performance indicates that
subgroups might be the relevant entity to study SMM. It seems that the group as a whole
did not need to share identical or similar perspectives to perform eectively. This is
plausible due to the need and ability of groups to divide labour. Hence, the members who
collaborated directly ought to share more cognition than the others who work
individually on subtasks. In contrary to this interpretation, the dyads that were mutually
connected with significantly frequent transition probability in the lag sequential analysis
of the speech succession did not exhibit higher SMM in general nor did they strongly
converge in the same sub-model. Probably, dierent reasons for the frequent interaction,
such as sympathy or congruent interests, might influence which submodels are shared
more strongly.
The findings suggested that shared mental models about team members (SMMteam)
and shared mental models about how to proceed (SMMprocess) are the submodels that
relate to successful performance. In contrast to SMMtask, these two increased in the
course of time. Moreover, SMMteam was the only submodel that clearly distinguished
between Top 3 and Bottom 3 teams. The discovered centrality of SMMteam can be
explained by the necessity of self-organising groups to create an accepted knowledge basis
on which the team can be structured and tasks and responsibilities can be allocated. In
this vein, shared awareness about the skills, abilities, capacities, attitudes, and interests of
each team member serves as a prerequisite for deciding who could best fulfil specific
subtasks in the group. It is worth noting that a supervisor might take on this function,
thus the importance of SMMteam might not be generally valid for all kind of groups.
The correlation between the mean value of the individual ratings (not the aggregated
value) and performance showed that the participants were able to assess group
performance realistically. Members of less successful teams had lower ratings than
members of successful teams. A loss of motivation or uncertainty about the opinions of
the other team members might be the reason that the less successful Bottom 3 teams
edited significantly less rating items than the participants of Top 3 teams.
90 R. Bierhals et al.

The dierences between the two teams with high and the one with low SMM score in
regard to the communication rate and the distribution of interacts among team members
could account for the influence of communication on the development of SMM. It is
remarkable that the increase of communication in time was smallest in G6, the group
with a very low SMM.
The observational analyses highlighted the importance of the so-called soft factors
such as motivation, culture of interaction, and feeling of competence (i.e. tolerance for
frustration and uncertainty). There were hints that these factors aect the way in which
groups manage information, how they deal with knowledge gaps, and how they take time
for thinking about the organisation of the group. Thus, the perceived self-ecacy in the
group seemed to have a high impact on the development of content-related mental

6. Discussion
In the following, the findings of the two studies are integrated into a model that attempts
to explain the development and interplay of MM in work groups.

6.1 Communication and SMM

The observed dierences in communication rates between the teams in study II suggest
that communication plays a vital role in forming SMM. The more complex the situation
the more a group needs to ensure by explicit verbal interaction that its members have the
same understanding of the situation. This is important in order to coordinate the groups
actions. However, SMM are not only a result of communication; the models in turn also
aect the way the group interacts. As the results of study I indicate, SMM seem to enable
the group to categorise information by consent in an eective manner. This means that
team members no longer need to communicate relations between information explicitly
but can subsume new information into already existing patterns, which are organised in
terms of categories. Accordingly, there is a positive feedback cycle between SMM and
communication (depicted in the upper part of figure 9).

6.2 Submodels
The broad segmentation of SMM into a task and team model in study I was specified in
study II into four submodels: task, process, team member and competence. While study I
provides insights how group members mentally organise knowledge in general, study II
gives evidence that the team member mental model and the process mental model are the
important submodels for eective performance in complex problem-solving. Contrary to
the task model, the sharedness of these two models also increased in time.
In accordance to the observations in both studies, the competence model (in which
motivational aspects, self-esteem, and self-ecacy of the team are represented) seems to
have the function of a driving force for the way a shared understanding is built up in the
team. Without the feeling of competence the group is less interested in forming a realistic
shared understanding but to receive just any signals of self-ecacy (Bandura 1977, 1997)
to bolster competence (see also Dorner 1996). This might be an explanation for the
confirmation bias in the search for new information, which occurred in one group of
study II. It could be assumed that the competence model develops on the bases of the
comparison between the estimated skills and capacities of the team members (SMMteam)
Shared mental models 91

Figure 9. Model of the development and interplay of the dierent submodels.

and the need to update the existing models and consequently close the knowledge gaps
(symbolised with an extra arrow in figure 9). The competence model only has a functional
impact on information management if the subjective result of the comparison suggests
that the group will have a chance to cope with the demands. Crucial for the assessment is
the perceived and not the objective relation between team capacities and the actual
problem requirements.

6.3 Reference system

The dierent findings on the group and dyadic level in study II present strong evidence
that it is not the entire group that needs to share identical knowledge to be eective.
Rather, the division of responsibilities for subtasks seems to be an important factor for
success. Findings from study I indicate that division of labour in the team as well as
motivational and emotional aspects can lead to dierent ideas about individual tasks and
fields of responsibility.
Especially when group members work in a distributed fashion on several dierent tasks
and consequently draw upon dierent knowledge bases, it is strongly recommended for
the enhancement of group functioning to have a mental reference system. Such a
reference system provides links to the people who have the relevant information and
enables team members to retrieve the relevant information by asking knowledgeable
colleagues. Also external memories like visualisations could function as a knowledge base
linked to the reference system. For distributed working groups the references can be
viewed as substitutes for a shared cognition. With the assumption of a reference system,
the similar notion of the transactive memory (Wegner 1987, 1995 see Badke-Schaub et al.
this issue) is integrated as a component of SMM.
92 R. Bierhals et al.

Reference systems might not be shared in a work group if a superior has represented
the links individually and organises the group in an autocratic style.

6.4 Update memory

How do the submodels interchange information? One hint might be the dierence in
information management between the groups in the gaming simulation of study II. The
successful group noticed its own knowledge gaps, was sensitive to update its knowledge
base and to gather helpful information. The less successful groups did not. It is assumed
that knowledge gaps are represented in an update memory. This update memory
resembles the meta-recognition model proposed by Cohen et al. (1998). But moreover, it
is considered as central interface in the interaction of the submodels. Therefore it stores
not only a framework about the general information available in the submodels, it also
indicates the necessity to gather missing information. Only when the information
necessity for updating in one submodel is perceived can the knowledge gap be closed.
Therefore, references of the outlined structure of the submodels are also a part of the
update memory. Consequently, this model is able to activate specific content of another
submodel as a prerequisite to gain and develop a shared understanding. In conclusion,
the update memory is viewed as an instance that provides dynamic improvement of team
cognition in case it is endorsed by the competence model, as already set out above.

6.5 Model import

Finally, a conceptualisation of how mental models interplay has to pay attention to the
fact that team cognition is not always created completely new, but built on pre-
assumptions and commonly shared schemata about the rules of collaboration and
context knowledge. These imported models (Tschan and Semmer 2001) function as a
foundation that is modified and substantiated during the of team interaction process.
The proposed model may give guidance for further research in the field of complex
design tasks. To gain deeper insights, empirical evidence about the assumed interplay of
MM in groups should be collected. Thereby, the impact of the update memory and
reference systems on the convergence of the submodels must be explored. Furthermore,
the focus of future investigation should be directed at the social interaction of subgroups
within design teams and on the impact of motivational and emotional factors on the
development of SMM.

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