The Olympics are one of the most exciting events we get to enjoy every four years. We get to watch world-class athletes represent their countries as they compete on the largest stage. The hours of practice, the struggles, and the investments truly comes alive as each Team delivers their best performance.
With this example in mind, it’s important from the outset for business leaders to take steps as Olympic coaches to build trust and cooperation among their employees to maximize productivity and team satisfaction. Bringing together different personalities is no small task, making it a challenge to create a cohesive team.
What is cohesiveness?
Cohesiveness is defined as the extent to which team members stick together and remain united in the pursuit of a common goal. A team is said to be in a state of cohesion when its members possess bonds linking them to one another and to the team as a whole (Molnau, 2019).
Members of a highly cohesive team focus on the process, not the person; they respect everyone on the team, assuming good motives; and they fully commit to team decisions and strategies, creating accountability among the team. Morale is also higher in cohesive teams because of increased team member communication, friendly team environment, loyalty and team member contribution in the decision-making process (Molnau, 2019). Higher morale means not only that employees are happy but is reflective on the kind of work that they will produce; happy employees mean better work and better results.
Four Stages of Team Development for a Cohesive Team
Psychologist Bruce Tuckman came up with a theory in 1965 about the stages that new teams must go through in order to be successful and obtain healthy cohesion. In both group dynamics and the four stages of team development he popularized the steps forming, storming, norming, and performing in order to describe the paths team take to high performance.
The forming stage represents the beginning, where the team is most likely nervous and anxious. Great expectations are shared from all team members while relationships are developed and ground rules are established. The storming stage is triggered once team members start jostling for position, stumbling from confusion, having arguments about leadership, strategy and goals. This is when team leadership becomes imperative. The leader’s role in this stage is essential as they must succeed at keeping the team motivated, addressing all concerns and clarifying purpose and goals. Tim Hagen, Chief Coaching Officer of Progress Coaching, echoed the importance of the forming stage saying that the first step in creating a cohesive, high performing team, is to “define what a great teammate is, and what actions each person needs to participate in to support those definitions” (Forbes, 2019). Once this is done, the team should be able to communicate, without people being defensive and create accountability. By going through this process barriers are broken done, the playing field is leveled and trust is re-established (Forbes, 2019). With everyone’s expectations aligned teams are able to better hold one another accountable and work in cohesion.
Once the forming stage is complete the team moves into the storming stage where members of the team may start to push against the boundaries established in the forming stage. This is the stage where many teams fail. Storming often starts where there is a conflict between team members’ natural working styles. People may work in different ways for all sorts of reasons but, if differing working styles cause unforeseen problems, they may become frustrated. This is called the ‘storming’ phase because of the arguments that arise. For example, team members may challenge the leader’s authority, or jockey for position as their roles are clarified. Or, if you haven’t defined clearly how the team will work, people may feel overwhelmed by their workload, or they could be uncomfortable with the approach you’re using (Tuckman, 1965).
It is important in this stage to make sure that the roles and responsibilities are established and laid out and authority is delegated. By giving team members the power to make decisions on their own, they are enabled to stretch, grow, and improve. This, in turn, goes a long way toward building group cohesion. Authority should be based on the strengths of each team member, assigning specific tasks based on each team member’s strengths. Delegating based on strengths is the best way for the group to accomplish its goals, be clear about what each member is responsible for, and hold them accountable
Once trust is finally gained the team moves into the norming phase and start to become cohesive. In this stage the group begin to become flexible and functional and group energy is channeled into the task. There may be a prolonged overlap between the storming and norming phase because as new tasks come up that challenge the group dynamic the team may lapse into behavior from the storming phase. Once the team can work as a unit without friction and the structure and processes that have been set up work well the team finally enters what Tuckman has called the performing phase.
Performing is met when it feels easy to be part of the team and people who join or leave won’t disrupt the team’s performance. This stage is essential to group cohesion as it allows for fun to be present within the group. During performing, the team should celebrate a job well done and arrange for activities such as a team lunches after the successful rollout in order to build comradery. This will act as an incentive for the next round of work, to reinforce the group cohesion you have already built. All work and no play can actually make your team less cohesive. Allowing your team to socialize, celebrate, and unwind make it easier for the team to form meaningful relationships and keep cohesion high when the work gets difficult.
Tuckman’s process of the stages a new team goes through is important but also requires the added necessity of feedback. Throughout a project and after a project us complete a leader should supply the team with feedback regarding both their individual performance and involvement as a team. Constructive feedback will make for a more cohesive team during the next project.
Likewise, leasers should also ask their team for feedback regarding what they thought did and did not work so well. Multiple opinions can shine a light on flaws in the process and, asking the team for their opinion, make them feel more valued and that their opinion matters.
Cohesiveness is the key factor in implementing effective, high-performance teams. By following Tuckman’s stages to build teams, leaders can create dynamic, high performing, cohesive teams that exceed the expectations set before them. Leaders must understand how team cohesiveness works and how bonding in a team will build energy in order to reinforce the sense of belonging and mutual respect to reach a stable foundation of limitless creativity.