Dealing with disconnected teams? Learn more about team cohesion to make sure your team stays united and works in harmony.
While each team member may have unique skills and produce great results individually, it’s not enough for a team to be successful. A team is more than a sum of its components, and to work effectively, additional effort is needed. Like parts of a clock form a mechanism that is able to display time, teams that work cohesively demonstrate impressive performance and high levels of job satisfaction.
Team cohesion, also known as team cohesiveness, is the ability of a team to stay united and work as a single organism to achieve a common goal. It can also be interpreted as the connections among team members that develop a sense of belonging and encourage people to create positive relationships. Team cohesiveness is built on effective communication and trust, which, however, are not characteristics of a team by default and thus should be intentionally developed.
Team cohesiveness can be characterized by two main factors:
No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it. – Harold E. Luccock, a Methodist Minister
On a team, you do not exist by yourself. You depend on others. This is one of the reasons why it’s so important to maintain cohesiveness. Without it, all your efforts can prove futile. Instead of getting things done, you will waste your time figuring out what to do and where to start.
Good team cohesiveness, on the contrary, can help a team reach its goals in a consistent manner. It has several benefits that make a team function like a well-oiled machine:
If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time. – Patrick Lencioni
In his book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” Patrick Lencioni describes a model of team dysfunctions, which decrease team effectiveness, and provides an antidote – a model of team cohesiveness that also consists of 5 elements, representing the opposites of the 5 dysfunctions. According to Lencioni, in a cohesive team, individuals must:
Let’s discuss these in more detail and, based on this model, outline a few signs of team cohesiveness that lead to team development.
In teams with a strong sense of cohesiveness, people trust each other. No one lets anyone down for faster career growth. Individuals know they can rely on colleagues in case of emergency. They know they will be informed about serious organizational changes, as well as about any changes that will affect everybody in the company.
In a cohesive team, individuals sacrifice their personal ambitions for the sake of the team’s well-being. Everyone shares the same vision and works towards turning it into reality. For them, “we” matters much more than “I.”
The organization and its goals are the priority. There is no room for inner competition because it distracts you from working on the result.
Misunderstandings and clashes of opinions are handled through discussions. Team members feel safe to disagree, and this often results in more informed decisions. This is why conflicts are not ruinous – they’re less heated emotionally and are an actual part of the work process.
When people contribute to decision-making, they tend to commit to those decisions. Even if they don’t have the final say, they feel their opinion is valued, and accept the decision more willingly. There is no need to revisit the same topic over and over again because you can’t achieve buy-in.
The members of cohesive teams hold themselves accountable for their part of work. They understand what they do has a direct effect on the whole team. If they underperform, the whole team will underperform. If they don’t meet deadlines, it will cause a chain reaction, and another team member will not meet a deadline. This is why they always try to either seek assistance or at least honestly inform other people about their problems.
In his article “The Neuroscience of Trust,” Paul J. Zak, an American neuroeconomist, provides interesting research data. He mentions that at companies with high levels of trust, people report 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 40% less burnout, and 76% more employee engagement. These numbers speak a lot and prove that a culture of trust really makes a difference.
So how can you build trust in the workplace?
As we mentioned in the beginning, the force that unites a team is a common purpose. In a workplace context, a purpose is called a vision – a picture of a hypothetical future where a company has already achieved success. Think what you want your company to look like in, say, 5 years. What is the fundamental principle it's built on? What values does it have, and how are they expressed in the way the company works, and in the products or services it produces?
While a vision is a broader category, goals are easier to understand. In fact, goals are a part of the vision – they’re clear and measurable things you need to achieve to make your vision come true.
So formulate your vision, set long-term and short-term goals, with deadlines, and make sure your team knows where they’re moving and what’s the role of each team member. For team cohesion, it’s particularly important that they know their personal duties and responsibilities, otherwise some work can be done twice, and some work – not done at all.
When team members have certain levels of authority, they get to feel more involved in what they do. By sharing authority with a team, leaders send a message that they trust their people. Besides the positive psychological effect it has on team members, which inspires them to contribute more, empowerment also leads to better results, as people at lower hierarchical levels often know more and can provide a leader with valuable insights.
Empowerment can take different forms. It can be as simple as delegation, or it can be something more advanced, like a partial decentralization of decision-making power or total self-management. The point is to make people feel they matter – their work, ideas, and feedback. This will motivate them to look for ways of improvement, both personal and organizational. They will be more responsible and learn to collaborate.
For example, if a person is granted the authority to make a decision, he or she will have to consider that this decision will most probably impact the other team members. It means that the person either has to perfectly know all the peculiarities of the work process or ask for advice. In any case, this requires an individual to see the team's work as a whole and look for the most practical decision.
In a team, opinions vary, and conflicts will inevitably arise. However, ignoring issues is a way to nowhere. There is an alternative – a healthy discussion where people actually talk, share their concerns, express their frustration, and try to find the right solution. This way, a team builds trust and minimizes politics. Learning to hear each other and to give up your opinion when someone proves it wrong makes people more united.
There are several things that can help you handle conflicts in a productive way:
A team cannot be considered cohesive if its members do not effectively communicate. To work smoothly as a team, people need to be aware of what is going on around them. They need to share information and continuously update each other on changes. For this reason, teams must organize their communication in advance, which includes the following:
Effective communication may also mean overcommuncation – repeating things over and over again, to avoid any misunderstanding. This is necessary for two reasons. Firstly, people may misinterpret information. Secondly, it also happens that information gets distorted by the time it reaches its addressee. Making sure you have been understood correctly is always very useful.
To conclude, group cohesion is about the closeness people develop within a team. This closeness is built on trust and is fueled by a proper organization of the team’s work. It doesn’t come naturally. But suppose group members make an effort to develop strong team cohesion, by valuing each other, practicing open communication, and resolving disputes in a healthy way. In that case, its chances of achieving better results get higher.
Being complex and unpredictable by nature, team culture poses quite a few challenges for leaders. Learn how to get it right with our guide to thriving together.
Healthy teams communicate effectively, trust and challenge one another, and achieve shared goals together. And this leads to higher productivity, profitability, innovation, and more. But how do you build or become one?