Team cohesion is the measure of how well team members work with one another. When a team is cohesive, it means everyone understands their role, embraces their strengths, and is committed to the overall team goals.
Despite so much information out there on teamwork and collaboration, why do so many teams still struggle with group cohesion?
Because knowledge without application is useless. And to truly apply a lot of the ideas in these articles—give feedback, be transparent, build trust, communicate effectively, etc.—you must first understand who you’re working with.
That understanding depends on an input most managers don’t have: workplace behavioral data. This data tells you what drives employees at work—and what makes them hate their job or clash with co-workers. Without this information, it’s nearly impossible to create an effective team.
Think of it this way: You’re drafting for a sports team but can only pick your team based on how your prospects look. You don’t know what their strengths or weaknesses are—or even whether they’re offensive or defensive players. That’s what building team cohesion is like without data to drive the process.
The good news is it’s not terribly difficult to obtain this information. A simple behavioral assessment will help you learn more about who’s on your team so you can better align employees with the team goals—and prevent interpersonal conflict.
1. Start with alignment.
Your team needs to be united around a common goal. Otherwise, each member will go off to do their work—and end up in wildly different places. And research shows individual efforts don’t perform as well as team ones.
Get your team together to gain alignment on what’s a priority. What’s the team’s goal? This alignment will get everyone rowing in the same direction—and increase team performance as a result.
2. Get the right players on the team.
Once you know what your goal is, you need to make sure you have the right team in place to achieve results.
This starts with getting an understanding of who’s currently on your team. What are their strengths and weaknesses? What comes naturally to them and what requires them to stretch outside their comfort zone?
Then, map each individual member’s strengths against what your team needs to achieve its cohesion goals. For example, if a member of your team is great at creating and automating processes, they’d be a natural fit for maximizing team efficiency.
If you use the PI software, the Team Discovery feature helps to plot employees against the activities that are critical to your team’s success.
Let’s say four team members of a team border the edge of the Teamwork & Employee Experience quadrant. This means they share behavioral traits that would make them a good fit for increasing cohesion among group members and helping to develop employees. These would be great people to spearhead an initiative to improve teamwork and team relations.
If there are gaps between your employees’ strengths and what’s needed to achieve your team goals, you’ll need to fill them outside the cohesive team. Why? Because while your employees can stretch themselves to meet the need in the short-term, it becomes exhausting over time. Imagine you’re right-handed and asked to write with your left on a daily basis. You could do it, but it wouldn’t feel natural and it would take more effort than simply writing with your dominant hand.
To fill the role, you might look internally to see who’s behaviorally wired for those types of activities. For example, maybe your marketing team is fast-moving and creative, but in need of someone to analyze data to determine which marketing efforts are most successful. You might lean on someone from your operations or business intelligence teams to provide that skill and insight. Alternatively, you could look at hiring someone new to join or support the team.
3. Use behavioral data to improve interpersonal relationships.
Every manager has had to resolve conflict between two team members. The cause of this discord often comes down to how we’re wired. If you have two employees approach work differently, yet they frequently work together, conflict is inevitable.
Take, for example, an employee who loves to innovate, generate ideas, and test hypotheses. Those employees play a necessary role in innovation for your organization! But if you have another employee on the team who likes structure, process, and finer details … you’ve got two diametrically opposed people!
That’s not to say these employees can’t work harmoniously together. Rather, it requires learning and understanding the differences in how employees think, work, and communicate to achieve that social cohesion.
In this case, the innovative employee might use self-awareness to slow down and create a project plan before taking off running. They might even take it a step further and ask the more detail-oriented person to comb over their plan for anything they may have missed. This is leveraging the behavioral strengths of both employees—while also teaching them how to better work together.
4. Give managers tools to tailor their leadership style.
Have you ever been on a team where the manager favored certain team members more than others? Sometimes it’s easier to get along with people who are more like you—that’s poor management.
Managers set the tone for the team. They need to be able to tailor their leadership style to fit the needs of all their employees—not just the ones that think and act like them. This applies to giving feedback, communicating changes to the team’s strategy, implementing team-building activities, and team development.
To do this effectively, a team leader needs to understand the differences in how their employees think, work, and act. Again, behavioral assessments can provide these insights.
If you use PI, you can use the Management Strategy Guide (shown below) to generate a custom report on how best to manage an employee whether they are part of an in-office or remote team.
5. Understand what’s driving the team to perform.
Beyond what managers and team members can do to improve team cohesiveness, it’s important to note what’s promoting employee engagement.
Using an employee experience survey (such as the PI Employee Experience Survey™), you can get a benchmark of what’s engaging and disengaging employees—not only across the organization, but also at the team level. This can provide valuable insight into what’s negatively impacting your team’s ability to be a cohesive group.
For example, maybe your team struggles with communication, and this is impacting how engaged they feel. This could be the result of not tailoring communication to the recipient, providing too much communication, having too many communication channels, or making frequent changes that aren’t communicated well.
From there, you can take steps to address disengagement within the team. (The PI Employee Experience Survey includes a personalized action plan to help you move in the right direction, as shown below.)
Team cohesion is multi-faceted.
While team-building exercises and similar activities can help cultivate trust and relationships among teammates in a step towards shaping high-performing teams, creating cohesiveness is multi-faceted. It has to start at the foundational level and address each component individually.
Because, at the end of the day, even trust falls can’t rectify misalignment and clashing personalities.
What is an example of team cohesion?
Suppose a coworker tells their team that there’s a new, urgent project—and it’s due tomorrow. If everyone’s first response is to step up and ask how to help, you’ve got a cohesive team. If they shrug, the team isn’t cohesive.
Why is team cohesion important?
Team cohesion leads to team effectiveness. When every member of a team trusts and knows one another, it becomes easier to put aside individual goals for the group’s well-being.
How do you measure team cohesion?
Team cohesion isn’t directly measurable. However, you can use measurements like employee engagement as a proxy.
More abstractly, you can ask yourself: Is there a strong sense of camaraderie? Do the group dynamics leave people feeling close? Or do people typically get their work done and leave?
What can cause a lack of cohesion in a team?
- People don’t know each other. When you’re not sure what your coworker actually does, it’s hard to lean on them for help.
- Few opportunities for connection. It’s not enough to know your coworkers—you also need to like them. When teams don’t have any opportunities to bond, it’s difficult to form the connections that create team cohesion.
- Competitive work environment. Some competition can be good—but too much, and people prioritize their individual interests over the team.