Date of Award


Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Kenneth Kotovsky

Second Advisor

Jonathan Cagan


Teams play an important role in solving today’s complex problems. Disagreement exists about how teams should begin working on these problems to maximize performance. Ideation research encourages team members to produce many solutions to a problem and delay alignment of individual mental models of the problem. Team problem solving research advocates earlier and consistent alignment of individual mental models (team coherence). Problem solving research with individual solvers advocates clarifying and refining requirements for an ill-defined problem (representation construction), often via heuristics such as restating the problem in different ways. The purpose of this dissertation is to compare these different ways of starting on a problem, including the performance outcomes associated with each and the process by which these strategies produce their effect.

The process by which teams identified goals for solving a problem was more important than a coherent team mental model for solution quality across two experiments with three-member teams solving case study problems. Experiment 1A & 1B shows that teams who collaborate early on a problem produce better solutions than those who collaborate after a delay. Team coherence is affected by working together with teammates, but does not impact solution quality. Groups of individuals who work alone the entire time (nominal teams) provided interim self-reports of their best solution that were more like their final problem solutions than other groups. In addition, members of interacting teams identify more “best” solutions of a problem when describing the solving process than “nominal” team (three-person aggregates working individually) members.

Experiment 2 replicates Experiment 1 findings, and also shows that instructions to restate the problem had a similar positive effect on solution quality as early interaction. Working in isolation with restatement instructions provided comparable results to collaborating with team members. Team coherence, in contrast, was not related to solution quality.

Both interaction and restatement improved quality by helping team members to consider alternative problem representations. Consideration of alternatives in turn may inoculate solvers from fixating on their first impressions of a best solution. Implications are discussed in terms of optimizing individual and team problem solving performance on ill-defined tasks.

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Psychology Commons