Getting On the Same Page

2-picture1For a team to be successful, team members should all understand their goals in the same way. If team members are moving forward in their own and in different directions, it is unlikely they will coordinate and cooperate effectively. They all need to be on the same page. Having clearly stated goals that are communicated to all members is a necessary step in this process. It is unwise to assume that everyone has a shared understanding because, odd as it may seem, not everyone sees the world in the same way. Periodic reminders of the shared goal and discussions about how to proceed can help point everyone in the same direction.

2-herding-cats-cartoonHaving team members on the same page has numerous benefits. Individuals can better coordinate their activities. Communication between team members is enhanced. The likelihood of conflict is reduced. Team members are better able to see the big picture – they have situational awareness of what needs to be done and why. Managers are no longer herding cats, but rather facilitating the work of cooperative teammates.

A mental model
A mental model

Team members’ conceptualizations of the team’s tasks, members’ roles, resources, timelines, and the like, are called mental models. These models are cognitive representations of teamwork (i.e., how the team should operate) and taskwork (e.g., what the team does and produces). A substantial body of research has shown that when team members have shared mental models – when they understand the task and team dynamics in the same way – their performance is improved. Work quality is enhanced and deadlines are more likely to be met. This is true for various types of teams in diverse workplaces, such as project teams, corporate teams, manufacturing teams, and innovation teams.  Teams should therefore work toward creating shared mental models through good and frequent communication.

Sandra Carpenter, Ph.D.