Think like a team: Shared mental models predict creativity and problem-solving in space analogs
As long-distance space exploration missions move beyond low Earth orbit, and crews become more Earth-independent, it is essential to identify predictors of team performance - properties of teams that can be monitored during space flight to anticipate performance decrements. The most robust team state predicting performance in the team effectiveness literature is shared mental models. Shared mental models are properties of a group reflecting how members organize knowledge and understanding about the purpose of the team, the nature of the work, and how members work together. In this study we developed a measure of shared mental models for use in ground-based analogs. It was administered in the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA)'s Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA) Campaign 4, Campaign 5, and the Nazemnyy Eksperimental'nyy Kompleks (NEK) SIRIUS-19 mission. HERA included eight 4-member crews in isolation for 45 days; NEK SIRIUS-19 included a 6-member crew in isolation for 120 days. To track performance variations, we administered two team tasks: a creative thinking task and a problem-solving task. We found substantial positive correlations between shared mental models and both dimensions of team performance in HERA and in NEK. Though shared mental models are a strong predictor of team performance across mission stages, we found some nuanced shifts. First, mental model sharedness in HERA is associated with crews generating fewer ideas in the third quarter than in other quarters, but also generating more novel, original ideas. Second, in the NEK mission we observed a third quarter effect with problem-solving, and the nature of the effect was that the effect of the shared mental model was most important in all quarters except the third. These results suggest that mission timing but also mission duration are important factors that condition relations between team process variables like shared mental models and team performance indicators.