Expert Teams: Do Shared Mental Models of Team Members make a Difference?
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The purpose of the present thesis was to investigate whether and how familiarity influences coordination, resilience, and efficiency in high performance teams in safetycritical organizations. Research has accumulated solid support for the general presumption that shared mental models are associated with team effectiveness (see overview, Kozlowski & Ilgen, 2006). Unfortunately, familiarity and shared mental models have seldom been the subject of investigation. This is surprising since the importance of team members having a shared understanding is underlined in dynamic situations that require high levels of flexibility and adaptability in the team (Cannon-Bowers et al., 1993; Salas & Fiore, 2004). The first study investigated whether knowledge about individual team members would augment the effect of operational skills in predicting operational effectiveness in trained expert teams. The second study investigated the consequences of shared mental models (SMM) of team members in teams that are forced to coordinate their activities towards a shared goal in a distributed team setting. The third study investigated whether shared mental models of team members would transfer across new tasks or situations and, through better coordination, result in improved efficiency and less physiological arousal. Study 1 included samples from 24 active duty officers who made up four submarine attack teams. Studies 2 and 3 included a total of 177 cadets from the Royal Norwegian Naval Academy. The findings from these three studies indicate that familiar teams used coordination strategies that enhanced efficiency. The coordination strategies used by familiar teams are characterized by less overt communication (statements per minute) during high workload (Study 1), a higher global anticipation rate (Study 2), and more adaptability and back-up statements during cross-training (Study 3). In addition, familiar teams showed more overt communication (e.g., confirmation) when confronted with a novel situation (Studies 2 and 3). Familiar teams outperformed unfamiliar teams, being more accurate, quicker and achieving greater mission success (i.e., more hits). Familiar teams were more physiologically aroused (HR) during low workload (Study 2), and less during high workload (Study 1), recovery (Studies 2 and 3), and decreasingly so during training (Study 3). These three studies extend previous research by presenting new empirical data on the significance of shared mental models of team members. Study 1 demonstrated that knowledge about team members (i.e., shared mental models of team members) adds to performance over and above the contribution of operational skills (Aim 1). Studies 2 confirmed Study 1 (within teams) and provide empirical evidence for the effect of shared mental models of team members in distributed teams (Aim 2). The findings from Study 3 suggest that shared mental models of team members are transferable across tasks and enhance the effects of cross-training (Aim 3). All studies extend previous research, but Study 3 in particular indicates that shared mental models of team members are distinctly different from transactive memory systems (Aim 3). Hence, a shared mental model of team members represents an independent, adaptive asset at team level that enhances team performance and efficiency. These studies are the first to provide empirical evidence in support of the notion that shared mental models of team members are a mechanism that improves teams’ efficiency, resilience, and coordination. This thesis confirms shared mental models of team members as an important and independent construct with an added value in relation to team performance and efficiency. It thus expands previous knowledge, where the focus has been on equipment, tasks, and team interaction. The findings are a contribution to and fill an important gap in the literature on Shared Mental Models. Implications are discussed for training, staffing and safety issues in teams in safety-critical organizations.