Tool: Mental Model Alignment

Mental Model Alignment is a process of acquiring coherent understanding of enterprise reality across different knowledge workers. Typical examples could be aligning around product idea or process model across different layers of the enterprise or across different teams. Another important set of examples stems from external alignment; more specifically, aligning your mental model with the customer’s or that of a partner organization, etc.

The reason why mental model alignment is so critical is not just because misaligned, enterprise knowledge workers will be inherently working in conflicting directions. There is also another reason: there is scientific evidence to the fact that aligning mental models across multiple people, has a propensity of making the mental models a more accurate representation of reality (see references below).

There is a large number of actual way of achieving mental model alignment, but the following are the common properties of an effective alignment process:

  1. Collocated (preferably physically; virtual option is possible, too)
  2. Diverse audience (people from different levels/divisions/teams of the organization and possibly from the outside of the company)
  3. Visual tools are used to express mental models (with a huge preference toward whiteboards, flip charts and other unconstrained physical means)
  4. Certain measures are undertaken to prevent from groupthink. Ex: people that don’t have any special ranks or management power allowed to express their opinions first (as an operating rule) and are carefully listened to
  5. Smaller groups (5-12 people) or larger groups with diverge-and-merge process in that case
  6. Key working agreement: Be prepared to change your views. Otherwise don’t come.

Following are the snapshot examples of mental model alignment visuals.

 In this case, the groups used a simple method of:

  1. Defining the key facts about the matter under consideration. They did it individually, to avoid affecting each other’s thinking.
  2. Merging the key facts from different people on the same board.
  3. Diverging again to individually define the links between those facts.
  4. Merging again to align on the links.

 

References:

Beng-Chong Lim, and Katherine J. Klein. “Team Mental Models and Team Performance: A Field Study of the Effects of Team Mental Model Similarity and Accuracy.” Journal of Organizational Behavior 27, no. 4 (2006): 403-18

Mohammed, Susan, and Brad C. Dumville. “Team Mental Models in a Team Knowledge Framework: Expanding Theory and Measurement across Disciplinary Boundaries.” Journal of Organizational Behavior 22, no. 2 (2001): 89-106.