The role of mental models in innovative teams

Graydon Davison (College of Law and Business, School of Management, University of Western Sydney, Penrith South, Australia)
Deborah Blackman (College of Law and Business, School of Management, University of Western Sydney, Penrith South, Australia)

European Journal of Innovation Management

ISSN: 1460-1060

Publication date: 1 December 2005



This paper aims to explore the role of mental models in knowledge development in order to demonstrate how the type and strength of the mental models held by a team contribute to its success in general and to innovation in particular.


Two cases are analysed (a successful and an unsuccessful team) which were developed via observation and interviews. The mental models in each case were analysed to map them to the success or otherwise of the teams.


The first case demonstrates that mental models in a multidisciplinary team can provide opportunity for a shared generation of knowledge for process innovation while open to external influence. The second case demonstrates that, where there are strongly shared mental models that prevent the team from constructing an accurate picture of their present by closing out external influences and pre‐selecting desired knowledge, opportunities for innovation are shut down.

Practical implications

Where mental models provide a sharing framework without closing out the networks and systems that sustain them, they can foster and support innovation. Managing team openness becomes a priority for supporting innovation. Team leaders will need to consider what types of mental models are developing and foster a focus on innovative outcomes and not processes. A concentration on understanding the current context via challenging given assumptions is recommended.


The paper offers clear, practical examples of the results of teams being encouraged to utilise open and closed systems of mental models.



Davison, G. and Blackman, D. (2005), "The role of mental models in innovative teams", European Journal of Innovation Management, Vol. 8 No. 4, pp. 409-423.

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Copyright © 2005, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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