Do great teams think alike? An examination of team mental models and their impact on team performance

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Abstract

Background.

Team mental models represent the shared understanding of team members within their relevant environment. Thus, team mental models should have a substantial impact on a team's ability to engage in purposeful and coordinated action. We sought to examine the impact of shared team mental models on team performance and to investigate if team mental models increase over time as teams continue to work together.

Methods.

New surgery interns were assigned randomly to 1 of 10 teams. Each team participated in one unique simulation every day for 5 days, each followed by video-based debriefing with a facilitator. Participants also completed independently a concept similarity tool validated previously in nonmedical team literature to assess team mental models. All performances were video recorded and evaluated with a scenario-specific team performance tool by a single, blinded junior surgeon under an institutional review board–approved protocol. Changes in performance and team mental models over time were assessed with paired samples t tests. Regression analysis was used to examine the extent to which team mental models predicted team performance.

Results.

Thirty interns (age 27; 77% men) participated in the training program. Percentage of items achieved (Symbol± SD) on the performance evaluation was 39 ± 20, 51 ± 14, 22 ± 17, 63 ± 14, and 77 ± 25 for Days 1–5, respectively. Team mental models were 30 ± 5, 28 ± 6, 27 ± 8, 26 ± 7, and 25 ± 6 for Days 1–5 respectively, such that larger values corresponded to greater differences in team mental models. Paired sample t tests indicated that both average performance and team mental models similarity improved from the first to last day (P < .01, P < .05, respectively). Additionally, regression analyses indicated that team mental models predicted team performance on Days 2–5 (all P < .05) but not on the first day of simulations.

Conclusion.

These results demonstrate that greater sharing of team mental models among the teams leads to better team performance. Additionally, the increase in team mental models over time suggests that engaging in team-based simulation may catalyze the process by which surgery teams are able to develop shared knowledge.

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