A tale of two research fields: from Team Mental Model theory to research model creation

Team Mental Model Theory

Team mental models are organized mental representations of the team’s relevant environment, shared across team members (Klimoski & Mohammed, 1994). They emerge because individual team members tend to categorise elements of their environments, such as tasks, situations, response patterns or relationships. These categorisations then become shared over time, thanks to communication within the team.

The extent to which mental categorisations are shared across team members can vary widely. They may be highly consistent with one another or completely incongruent. Importantly, when researchers talk about shared mental models, they do not suggest that an identical set of categorisations is held by every member of the team. Rather it is suggested that there exists some degree of consistency or convergence between individuals’ mental models (Kang, 2006; Rentsch, 2008).

Teams with higher levels of convergence of mental models can perform better. A shared mental model enables team members to anticipate the needs and actions of others in the team (Cannon-Bowers, 1993). Thus, the team can coordinate its actions, enhancing its decision-making capacity (Stout, 1999).

From TMM to research models

If we conceptualise research communities as teams, we can begin to see how TMM theory applies to researchers seeking to identify what is researched by individuals members of the team. A degree of sharedness will exist across the mental models held by researchers in each field. They are likely to use the same terms in reference to the same concepts. However, mental models which are shared within one field may diverge significantly from those in a neighbouring field. An understanding of the ways in which different groups think about a topic has vast potential in the pursuit of interdisciplinary research.

Our map, generated by resgap.com help illustrate the idea that mental models lie on a continuum, rather than as a dichotomy (say, very infrequently discussed in one literature to smilingly identical mentions in both literatures). As an example, we could study how the term “techno-stress” is studied by Psychology and Information Systems researchers. Our tool would help uncover what are the topics that are frequently discussed in both fields, as well as topics that are frequently discussed in one field, but unfrequently discussed in the other.

By mapping what is discussed among researchers in separate fields, we may increase the effectiveness of our research. It is possible to develop a systemic understanding of who is doing what, increasing the coordination of our actions with those of other members of the research community. We become able to anticipate the needs and actions of our fellow researchers.

The unique contribution of resgap.com lies in its use of entity linking. Because resgap.com does not rely on keyword identification alone, it identifies discussion of concepts, not just the usage of similar terms. This helps overcome the challenge presented differences in the use of terminology. Different terms may be used in different fields to describe the same concept, or the same terms may be used in different fields to describe completely different concepts. However, resgap.com can cut through the confusion, allowing us to see where fields overlap, and where relevant and valuable research may be directed.


Cannon-Bowers, J. A., Salas, E., & Converse, S. (1993). Shared mental models in expert team decision making. In N. J. Castellan, Jr. (Ed.), Individual and group decision making: Current issues(pp. 221-246). Hillsdale, NJ, US: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Kang, H.-R., Yang, H.-D., & Rowley, C. (2006). Factors in team effectiveness: Cognitive and demographic similarities of software development team members. Human Relations, 59(12), 1681–1710. https://doi.org/10.1177/0018726706072891

Klimoski, R., & Mohammed, S. (1994). Team Mental Model: Construct or Metaphor? Journal of Management, 20(2), 403–437. https://doi.org/10.1177/014920639402000206

Marrone, M, Hammerle, M (2018) Smart Cities: A Review and Analysis of Stakeholders’ Literature. Bus Inf Syst Eng60: 197. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12599-018-0535-3

Rentsch, J. R., Small, E. E. & Hanges, P. J. (2008) Cognitions in organizations and teams: What is the meaning of cognitive similarity? In D. B. Smith (Ed.),LEA’s organization and management series. The people make the place: Dynamic linkages between individuals and organizations (pp. 127-155). New York, NY, : Taylor & Francis Group/Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Stout,R.J., Cannon-Bowers, J. A., Salas, E., & Milanovich, D. M. (1999). Planning, Shared Mental Models, and Coordinated Performance: An Empirical Link Is Established. Human Factors, 41(1), 61–71. https://doi.org/10.1518/001872099779577273

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