Team Cohesion

Cohesion: “The action or fact of forming a united whole.”

Do the teams in which you are currently active feel fragmented? Do you have each other’s back? Does conflict lead to more connection? Are there things unspoken that should be talked about? Does everyone have a voice? No, I am not fantasizing about a utopian vision of teams, I am speaking into a possibility. No team is perfect, and one of the things that will characterize a team is not if there are breakdowns, but rather how are they handled.

A well-defined set of a team’s cultural practices is the first step, but only a first step, a beginning. Best case, the team leader defines these practices in conversation with the team. Left to its own accord, team practices will define themselves, which can lead to team chaos; everyone playing their own game, lack of cohesion. The next step is team alignment to the practices. Full commitment to team practices means that even if one disagrees, there is still commitment to the practices with a positive mood about it. There would never be any intentional action to undercut or controvert the agreed upon practices. And if one is not willing, maybe it is not the right team for this person. This may seem rigid, but no, I suggest this is one of the fundamental necessities of world class teams. How long would a soccer player last on a team if they didn’t play by the rules of the game or refused to be a “team player?”

What does a cohesive team feel like? I say “feel” rather than look since from the outside, teams could look the same, but can certainly feel very different. In the teams you participant in, is there:

• Consistent upbeat, positive mood
• Personal accountability
• Informed, graceful leadership
• Ongoing support vs finger pointing
• Everyone has a voice
• Conflict is resolved quickly
• Honesty and authenticity
• Trust is ongoingly built on purpose

There is a look and feel on teams that are well structured. And it’s not just that team members get along or whether they are friends or not. It becomes more about respect for each other, support for each other, interest in each other, listening to each other, and let’s not leave out high levels of expertise, effective and efficient coordination, clarity or roles and responsibilities, and clarity of action both on the giving, receiving, and defining of actions. Everything mentioned here is a kind of practice or can be practiced, and when well defined and well trained, great things can happen. Well trained means that the defined coordination practices are practiced and refined on purpose, that the skills are supported through conscious recognition and application of support as needed. And support won’t always be technical, like defining the pragmatic structure of effective request, it will also look like the personal support of the Self when old issues get in the way. There is recognition that not everyone can do everything with ease and grace, that we sometimes must take on personal issues to develop an embodied competency.

It will never be a perfect ride. Humans make mistakes, we occasionally mess up, and we may inadvertently create breakdowns. It becomes a necessity with world class teams that assessments are regularly offered regarding performance and team behavior. Real time, straight forward, honest assessments with grounding: “It appears you are not being careful enough with your work, and I say that because you did this at this time, and you did this at this time, etc.” Issues are addressed as they occur, not once a year in a review (worst case scenario). This requires that the assessor be willing to step into what might be a difficult conversation, and the listener to be open and curious about what is being offered. It may not be easy or comfortable to attend to these kinds of things on a regular basis and keeping the air clear of unresolved issues can and will prevent frustrations and resentment and reduce stress levels.

A word about Mastery. This is the difference between good enough, which is totally reasonable in some domains, and an ongoing effort to be the very best. Mastery is only obtained by the latter. The process and effort of becoming the best is at the least a challenge and will ask the best of ourselves to be fully involved. But wouldn’t this be just a marvelous way to live life anyway?