Sharing Your Vision… The Shared Mental Model

In a military operation, one of the most important elements in mission planning is obtaining a “Share Mental Model” between all involved parties.

A “Shared Mental Model” is defined as the ability to form a framework that simplifies a potential complicated strategy such that each human component involved is able to accurately internalize the strategy and be guided by it. If a Shared Mental Model is obtained it will give each human participant the ability to make critical decisions, independently especially when the “fog” of battle ensues.

In business, on teams, or in any organization ensuring an accurate Shared Mental Model among all involved is paramount to project or business success. Here are 5 fundamental steps that will help any team form an accurate Shared Mental Model;

  1. Always set aside the time for a Briefing. This should be done before every project (no matter how big or small), goal, or team shift changes, etc…
  2. As the leader, you need to provide the “Big Picture” first. Essentially what is the real outcome you want to achieve? Keep it simple and meaningful. Just tell them the time, not how to build the watch!
  3. Involvement of all team members in this briefing process is important. Don’t surround yourself with those who “think” like just like you do (this tends to be natural for all of us). You want to include genuine diversity in the unique perceptions that others have. Understanding these perceptions are foundational to social-emotional intelligence. Check out this article that shows the uniqueness of perceptions that worked for NASA’s astronaut selection, placement and training for the Space Shuttle program.
  4. Create an environment where it is acceptable for others to ask questions. This is not your time to ask questions that may manipulate others to your way of thinking. Instead, you want to earnestly, and with genuine curiosity, invite others to ask questions. This way you will be able to uncover inconsistencies in the mental models.
  5. Solicit Feedback. To solicit this feedback it is your time to ask questions. Make sure you let others talk and listen carefully as you can’t be sure they have the “Shared Mental Model” unless you physically hear the words coming from their voices.

Without an accurate “Shared Mental Model”, a strategy will be open to individual interpretations which, in turn, will result in serious faulty decision making, wrong courses of action, and a loss of situational awareness. Briefing regularly to obtaining a Shared Mental Model, doesn’t have to take long periods of time. They can be just a five-minute “water cooler” session or a more formal event…it all depends upon the situation.

Question: Will you share a time when you thought everyone on your team had the same vision but in execution, you discovered that they didn’t?


David Kaiser
David Kaiser
DAVE is a retired Navy Commander and current CEO and founder of H2H Dynamics, an authentic leadership training and advisory company that focuses on the essential human to human dynamics that determine successful business, team and personal performance. He served as a Naval Officer and Aviator where he flew 46 combat sorties during Desert Storm. He was one of the officers in charge of the Navy and Marine Corps elite Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape training program where he was first exposed to human dynamics under extremely stressful conditions. In the corporate sector Dave was the Chief Learning Officer for a major defense contractor where he was responsible for all human performance training for the U.S. Air Force Air Combat Command, NATO, NASA, foreign militaries, and various Fortune 500 companies. He directly applied latest research in the fields of learning psychology, human performance, and neuroscience. Additionally Dave lead a three year research study for the United States Air Force Research Laboratory to determine the most effective training interventions to improve human performance of tactical aircrew members. During this research project he discovered the human performance tool used for NASA’s Astronaut selection for the Space Shuttle program and became one of the few people qualified to use the tool. From this research Dave co-authored two published papers at the Interservice/ Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference in 2008 (Best Paper Nominee) and again in 2010.

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