Interthinking: Team dynamics

In our previous newsletter, we introduced the concept of 'Interthinking' as defined by Littleton & Mercer (2013) in their seminar publication with the same title. We highlighted the importance of ‘Exploratory’ talk as the basis upon which meetings could achieve interthinking and consequently innovation and problem-solving through collaboration.

COVID-19 and the WFH revolution has meant that a lot of our collaboration is online. Within such a context, team interactions through cloud-enabled technologies are the tools that managers need to use in order to achieve interthinking. However, these tools in and of themselves do not promote or achieve interthinking, instead it is the underlying culture of the team or organisation. Negative team cultures where team members are discouraged from expressing an opinion that contravenes the consensus view of the team and where evidenced-based arguments are not encouraged stifle collaborative creativity and innovation. In such environments, what often results are low-quality decisions, inadequate risk assessments, and a tendency to reach uncritical consensus (Littleton & Mercer, 2013).

Interthinking and collaborative creativity do not always occur just by bring the team together. The two pre-requisites for interthinking are common knowledge and ground rules. High yield collaboration occurs when there is a sufficient level of expertise within the team, defined as background common knowledge, and the shared history of the group, which creates a repository of dynamic common knowledge (Littleton & Mercer, 2013). The second pre-requisite of ground rules are the set of accepted norms are embraced as part of the team culture, where Littleton & Mercer (2013) propose the following set of ground rules:

  • Members of the team are free to criticise any opinion or proposal when this is motivated by team objectives.
  • Criticisms are constructive and not construed as personal attacks.
  • Opinions are evaluated based on the evidence or supporting arguments as opposed to the job title of the speaker.
  • Opinions or proposals are always presented along with supporting evidence or justification so that others can critically assess the same.
  • Use questions to gather more information before making a criticism.
  • Regularly ratify and ensure agreement on team decisions or proposals.
  • Regular review of team process and ground rules.

Figure 1 – Ground Rules for Team Discussion (Littleton & Mercer, 2013)

Finally, in reviewing a host of literature and numerous studies on collaborative thinking, Littleton & Mercer (2013) reach a conclusion that when Exploratory Talk, Appropriation, Co-construction and Transformation are present, these are markers showing that Interthinking is happening. This can be reconceptualised as a continuum of stages of development, as shown in Figure 2, that a team must go through in order to become an effective, innovative, self-regulating, and problem-solving engine.

Figure 2 – The Interthinking Continuum


Littleton, K. & Mercer, N. (2013) Interthinking: Putting talk to work. Routledge.