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Group memory and team meetings

Have you ever been on your way to a team or study group meeting and wondered what happened at the last meeting or the meetings before? Or perhaps looked in your diary, realised that a meeting was on that day and wondered what and where the information was about a particular agenda item or what actions and research/study actions you needed have completed? 

You are not alone. Group memory when working in teams or study groups is often implicit or a sub-conscious after thought of the team work. 

Collaborating effectively: Group memory

Remembering the plethora of previous and current team meeting artefacts, objects, actions and activities is something most of us find a challenge. Yet meetings aren’t new and are a typical part of study groups, team and organisational life. It would be fair to say that most of us have this group memory challenge. 

So what is group memory?   And how would consciously creating a group memory infrastructure enhance our abilities to remember and recall group memory? 

Let’s start with a brief precis of the origins of group memory. Further blogs will expand on these concepts in relation to team meetings, team knowledge building and group work and my own research.

Group memory conceptualisation commenced with Halbach’s (1947) work on  collective memory that considered shared knowledge and information as derived from the memories of how group members remembered their past. Fagin, Yamashiro and Hirst (2013) in the tradition of distributed cognition state that acts of remembering and cognitive labor, which is divided between a rememberer and external sources, is a mnemonic convergence between communicators rather than a catalyst for augmenting memory. Whereas transactive social memory as discussed by Sutton, Harris, Keil and Barnier (2010) sees memory being a social process and pays attention to both the phenomena and sciences of collaborative recall and socially distributing remembering. In my own research, collective memory aligns with long-term memory agency.

From 1980 onwards Wegner published on transactive memory through his research with long-term couples, highlighting individual memories prompting couple remembering. This concept found its way into organisational thinking and since 1987 is widely referred to as transactive memory systems (TMS). TMS focuses on ‘who knows what’ rather than group memory in relation to team meetings or organisational memory in general. Theiner (2013) in his work with emergent group memory argues that TMS group cognition cannot be reduced to individual cognition. Short-term and working memory groups as outlined by Mojzisch, Krumm and Schultze (2014) is also connected to the differences of an individual’s working memory capacity to do the higher order cognitive tasks rather than the groups memory capacity.

In research on organisational memory, while the individual memory system was acknowledged, knowledge is considered to reside in a supra-individual form that shares knowledge and organisational memory. Argote (2013) traces the history of the idea that organisational memory is being held primarily in organisational records, rules and procedures.

Expanding on organisational memory, Akgun, Keskin and Byrne (2012) suggest organisational emotional memory that combines declarative and procedural memory as an emerging concept with two dimensions of emotional valence and emotional arousal. Whereas organisational transactive memory according to Nevo, Benbasat and Wand (2012) is about the role of meta-memory in transactive memory development and utilising the abilities that technology offers to provide a meta-memory that can be distributed amongst group members of the processes and collaborative procedures by which groups encode, store and retrieve information.

Other types of memory are of informal learning and procedural memory which do relate well to workplace team meetings as they incorporate the social significance of learning from other people, personal experiences and knowledge building. This includes Tulving’s (1979 and 1995) theory of memory which distinguishes between episodic, semantic and procedural memory. Boundary objects offer memories according to Akerman and Halverson (2000).

Donald (2010) expands on the work of Lashley (1950) and possibly Tulving, in providing the concept of memory media: engrams and exograms. Memory media is related to memory record storage. An engram is stored in the nervous system whereas exograms are memory records stored outside the nervous system such as printed books, electronic data banks, archives and alike.

Group cognition, knowledge building and storage along with collaborative group memory are conceptualisations that provide relevance in particular to team meeting work and group memory. Theiner (2010) discuss cognitive capacities of memory, attention, learning and problem solving. Betts and Hinzs (2010) bring forward findings of collaboration allowing group members to pool their memories through group memory collaboration processes, memory tasks with suggestions of improving group memory performance.

This is but a brief synopsis highlighting the exciting work taking place in attempting to understand group memory in workplace settings. In my PhD research, I am examining 'looking back acts' in team meetings through video ethnography, thus studying group memory ‘in action'. Based on this examination I am beginning to develop a ‘toolkit’ for establishing a group memory infrastructure.

Amanda (Mandy) Lacy 


Submitted bySanri LR on Wed, 06/07/2017, 11:43

This is interesting stuff and as you mentioned most people who have sat in meetings would be able to relate to this! Looking forward to seeing what your toolkit would look like... Willing to make a prediction on how it might influence current minute taking procedures?