CornerStone Consulting Associates
Sample Facilitation and Debrief
Mental Models

Our behaviors are based on models that we carry in our mind. These Mental Models are sets of assumptions that explain how different factors interact with each other to produce alternative results. We can become ineffective whenever we mindlessly apply them without being aware of their existence.

Confusion -- and even conflicts -- may arise when our Mental Models differ from those of other people. An important first step in improving personal and interpersonal performance is to examine our Mental Models and to be able to explain them to others. Usually the first order challenge is not the examination of Mental Models, but the awareness and admission that they even exist.


The participants explore a Sentinel labyrinth. They individually write down elements of their Mental Models of the nature of the labyrinth. Later, they form teams, share their Mental Models, and integrate them. Still later, they individually write down the elements of Mental Models about working in groups. Finally, the participants share their Mental Models about teamwork.


To explore personal Mental Models and to share them with others in order to improve personal and interpersonal performance.


Minimum: 6
Maximum: 30
Best: 10-25


75 minutes. (20 minutes for exploring the Sentinel labyrinth, 20 minutes for creating and sharing Mental Models of the labyrinth, 15 minutes for creating and sharing Mental Models of interpersonal interactions, and 20 minutes of debriefing.)


Set up the Sentinel Labyrinth as shown (click here).

  • Show the Sentinel labyrinth.
  • Identify the columns and explain that the system will sound an alarm if people move into certain areas.
  • Don't divulge which columns are active and which are inert -- nor divulge how the motion detectors are configured.
  • Specify the goal. Explain that the team is to walk through the labyrinth and reach the wall on the other side of the room without setting off the alarm.
  • Specify the constraints. The participants should not touch the labyrinth columns. If the alarm goes off, everyone should backtrack until the alarm stops. The participants should not run or jump -- they should walk slowly.


Begin the activity
  • Announce that the participants have 15 minutes to travel through the labyrinth.
  • Start the timer and ask the participants to begin.
  • Monitor and coach.
  • If the alarm goes off, remind the participants to backtrack until it stops.
  • After about 10 minutes, silently demonstrate how to successfully move through part of the labyrinth, if the participants have not figured this out for themselves.

Conclude The Activity

  • If the participants achieve the goal in less than 15 minutes, congratulate them and encourage them to continue exploring the labyrinth for the remainder of the allowed time.
  • If they run out of time, silently demonstrate how to traverse the labyrinth.
  • Do not give any explanations about how the Sentinel system works.
  • Encourage one or more participants to try out your method for themselves.

Ask for Mental Models
  • Ask the participants to think about what is happening in the labyrinth.
  • Invite a couple of guesses about the workings of the labyrinth. Repeat these statements without any comments.
  • Distribute several index cards or pieces of sticky notepaper to each participant. Ask them to write down statements about what they believe is happening in the Sentinel labyrinth, one statement per card or notepaper.
  • Encourage them to use a cause-effect or if-then format for their statements.

Assign team work
  • After a suitable pause, ask the participants to form themselves into teams of 4 to 6 members.
  • If they used index cards, ask them to spread their cards on a table. If they used pieces of notepaper, ask them to stick these pieces to the wall or to a flip chart.
  • Instruct the participants to examine the statements, eliminate duplicates, and arrange the others in order of their plausibility.
  • Announce a time limit.

Provide feedback

After a suitable pause, distribute copies of the handout that describes the workings of the Sentinel system. Ask the teams to compare their statements with the official explanation.


Discuss Mental Models

  • Point out that during the labyrinth activity, all participants "operate" and interact on the basis of their Mental Models.
  • Briefly describe a Mental Model as a set of assumptions about how different elements of the human/business system interact to produce alternative outcomes.
  • Point out that the participants have completed an exploration of mow the Sentinel labyrinth works subject to their own individual and collective Mental Models.
  • Mention that the Sentinel labyrinth forms a system that is greater than a single Sentinel column. And hence the Sentinel system invokes certain responses with respect to Mental Models that any one piece of the Sentinel system does not do alone. (Number of columns, active, inactive, spacing, ambiguity, pattern, etc.)

  • Ask for a Mental Model of interpersonal interactions.
  • Explain that the participants' behaviors in the labyrinth activity is only partly based on their Mental Model of the workings of the labyrinth.
  • It is also based on their Mental Models of how people should behave when working in a group and how people would react to different behaviors of group members. For example, if a participant is afraid of making mistakes in public, he or she would stay back and let the others initiate the action.
  • Distribute more index cards (or pieces of sticky notepaper) and ask the participants to independently write statements about interactive behaviors during the labyrinth activity.
  • Announce a time limit for this activity.

Assign team work
  • After a suitable pause, announce that the participants will repeat the teamwork procedure.
  • Ask them to return to their earlier teams and to review the statements on the cards (or pieces of sticky notepaper), eliminate duplicates, and arrange the others in order of their plausibility.
  • Assign a suitable time limit.

Sharing Their Mental Models
  • Ask each team to take turns to present five of its statements about the participants' interactive behaviors in groups.
  • List them on a flip chart. Invite comments on each item.
  • Explain that unlike in the case of the Sentinel labyrinth, there is no correct, official explanation.
  • The important point is for each participant to be aware of his or her Mental Model, how it differs from those of other people, and how it helps or hinders personal performance.
  • Encourage the participants to modify their personal Mental Models.
  • Ask the participants to think of the impact of the public discussion of Mental Models on their personal Mental Models.
  • Invite the participants to comment on how their individual Mental Model stood up against other participant's models.


  • With their individual and collective Mental Models out in the open where they can be seen, ask participants which ones they would change -- and then have them practice the new Mental Models in the Sentinel Labyrinth. (You might consider changing the Sentinel Labyrinth pattern to put the new Mental Models to the challenge.)
  • Ask the participants to dialogue about the pros and cons of keeping their Mental Models on the surface as opposed to allowing them to be in the "autopilot" stage. How much should one keep on the surface and how much should one internalize and forget?

Questions For Reflection
  • Are the same Mental Models operative during group activities in your workplace?
  • How do they help or hinder?
  • What are the challenges in surfacing, testing and evolving useful Mental Models in your workplace?
  • Which Mental Models need to be changed so that Mental Models can be changed? Is there a paradox in this?
  • What activites, training, learning experiences, coaching, or practice do we need to be able to constructively evolve our Mental Models?

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CornerStone Consulting Associates
Bringing Systems to Life
2761 Stiegler Road - Valley City OH 44280 - US

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