Mental models explain how we as individual humans understand the world. Our mental models are personal to us, influenced by our own culture and personal experiences.
Novices have fewer and less rich mental models, spending more mental effort and time trying to understand the information received from their environment.
With experience, we have more and richer mental models of situations. We are also able to understand and assess the situations associated level of risk.
Our mental models produce expectations about the characteristics of given situations. An easy way to think of this is mental models therefore provide a single step link between a recognised situation and the typical actions that occur in response to this.
A shared mental model is the perception, understanding or knowledge of a situation or process that is shared among team members through communication.
A shared mental model leads to mutual understanding of all team members, of the situation, the tasks in hand and knowing who is responsible for each action.
Without shared mental models, team members are more likely to process information differently and arrive at differing interpretations of the situation. In a time-critical emergency situation this could be the difference between quickly resolving the situation and maintaining patient safety, and a never-event potentially occurring.