Mapping team mental models with narrative simulations

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Mapping team mental models with narrative simulations


Author: Zou, Xiaoping
Title: Mapping team mental models with narrative simulations
Degree: Ph.D.
Year: 2010
Subject: Hong Kong Polytechnic University --Dissertations
Teams in the workplace
Department: Dept. of Industrial and Systems Engineering
Pages: xvi, 313, 47 leaves :ill. ; 30 cm.
Language: English
InnoPac Record:
Abstract: In contemporary organisations, teams are becoming increasingly important due to the growing complexity of the business environment. Teams, not individuals, are regarded as the basic learning units in an organisation. The importance of teams has inspired a great number of research studies on team performance. Many of these studies have identified the skills that teams need to possess and the processes they should undertake. Recent studies note that teams also possess knowledge and values that allow them to work collaboratively without extensive communication, and some research studies further demonstrate that team cognitions exert more influence on team effectiveness than do demographic factors (such as age and nationality). The team mental model (TMM), which is built upon the concept of the individual mental model, is one of the most important constructs in the realm of team cognitions. As it is a cognitive knowledge schema, a mental model determines how one views the world and what actions one takes. In a team, members continuously interact with one another, and knowledge, meanings and beliefs are shared within the team. These elements constitute the TMMs. Being collectively constructed by all team members, TMMs are complex, dynamic and often context-specific. Thus one challenge in the study of TMMs is that they are very difficult to comprehend and visualise. Existing designs for mapping TMMs have not sufficiently addressed these characteristics. Most current studies elicit TMMs by static and pre-designed measures, such as similarity ratings and questionnaire surveys. Consequently, the majority of existing designs are suitable for exploring the task aspect of the TMMs but not for exploring the value aspect which is of equal importance to the team. As an attempt to bridge the gap in the literature of TMMs, this study aims to create and develop a new design to map TMMs in their specific contexts. A Design-based Research (DBR) is adopted since it is particularly useful for the exploration and refinement of new designs in interventions and methodologies. Through interactive data collection and analysis processes, DBR provides a means to create, test, validate, and modify the designs of mapping TMMs in multiple cycles. In this study, three rounds of designs are generated, each of which involves an empirical implementation with four Six Sigma project teams in an international battery manufacturing company.
The first design introduced a Sensemaking Workshop to elicit from the teams the key concepts related to teamwork, and adopted traditional similarity ratings to visualise the inter-relatedness of these concepts. The concepts were obtained from a rich context but the limitation found was that those contexts were not retained in the mapping results. The second design adopted a collective storytelling technique to derive the contexts, actions and consequences in TMMs. The contexts were retained but the complicated process of mapping involved too much intervention from the facilitator. Based on the feedback resulting from reflection on the previous two designs, the third design introduced a narrative-based simulation to map TMMs. Stories were collected in a group setting and reviewed by team members against ten important dimensions related to various aspects of the team. These dimensions were derived from carefully designed sensemaking activities. Correspondence Analysis was then applied to visualise TMMs using a two-dimensional map. Relationships between the teamwork stories, the key dimensions, as well as those between the stories and the dimensions were shown. Compared with the existing mapping designs, the third design provides richer and more meaningful contexts. This results in a better understanding of TMMs. A meta-analysis was conducted to synthesize the findings from the three rounds of implementation. The results support one major conclusion from the literature, namely that high performance teams share more similar mental models within the team than average teams do. Furthermore, some additional insights have been generated. For example, TMMs in high performance teams revealed stronger interrelationships between teamwork concepts and reflected wider perspectives on the same issue. Besides, limitations in TMMs of Six Sigma project teams were identified, which referred to the over emphasis on the technical activities during the implementation of Six Sigma while neglecting the handling of external relationships with relevant parties. This study is significant as it attempts to deal with the complex aspects in TMMs from a constructivist perspective, which has not been adequately addressed by previous researchers. During the exploration and refinement of the designs, principles and details describing how to map TMMs were generated. This may inform future studies that aim to tackle similar research problems. In addition, this study also contributes to the emerging branch of cognitive engineering as it goes beyond the primary focus of traditional industrial engineering which is mainly concerned with individual workers interacting with mechanical technologies and the human-machine interface. The present study branches out towards a scientific study of cooperative work among employees and emphasizes the importance of organisational change in a socio-technical system.

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