Developing a Shared Mental Model of Team Functioning in the Context of Research
Author(s): Dr. Sarah Gehlert, PhD
Despite the fact that the number of disciplines and specializations in universities has burgeoned over time, education and training remain discipline-specific. Consequently, investigators attempting to address complex problems like the prevalence and severity of psychiatric disorders are hampered by the absence of a template for working together to capture the complex, and often multi-level, nature of these problems and turn their jointly-acquired knowledge into practice and policy solutions. Effective team functioning relies on the ability of investigators from different backgrounds to communicate with one another, understand one another’s work, and develop a shared identity, mission, and goals. This is facilitated by the development of a shared mental model of the research endeavor. Here, after describing various modes of disciplinary collaboration, we describe the development of such a shared mental model in one site of a transdisciplinary team-based research initiative of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. This site that was located at the University of Chicago included investigators from the social, behavioral, and biological sciences, some of whom were clinician-scientists. We describe the stages of the team’s development and mechanisms that were used successfully to create a shared mental model. This model took individual investigators outside their home disciplines to create new intellectual space and provided evidence of its success in achieving transdisciplinary functioning. We also provide evidence that the approach increased the item’s ability to work collaboratively.