Mindful Humans

Team cohesion: how to develop it

THIS ARTICLE WAS PUBLISHED ON REVUE GESTION WEBSITE.

It may seem contradictory, but I experienced one of my most beautiful team cohesion moments during a major computer incident that occurred at a critical time for our organization.
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Indeed, that day, a large media campaign was in full swing, with appearances on television, radio, and social media.

And then boom, our website experiences a major outage and is no longer available to the public. It’s a disaster. The pressure from senior management is at its peak.

 
The strength of team cohesion

However, faced with adversity, the project team consolidates like never before and mobilizes all its resources to solve the problem. SWAT teams are created to explore different solution paths. Decision-making is clearly assigned among the different actors, and communications are fluid. But above all, team members maintain their optimism despite the storm, trust each other, and build their working hypotheses while considering divergent opinions.

Exhausted but delighted, we manage to get the website back up after nearly four hours of downtime.

It may surprise you, but I consider this episode a great success. Our team cohesion, which translated into our ability to work effectively together in a productive and positive manner, made the difference. The problem was complex to solve, and the outage could have lasted even longer if the team members had not worked so well together.

In fact, we would like to replicate such performance under all circumstances, not only in times of crisis!

How can we do this?

Let me share with you some of the lessons I’ve learned as a leader of large teams, but also as a team coach certified by Team Coaching International (TCI).

In this article…

You will find answers to the following questions, concerning team cohesion:

  • What is a team?
  • Why is team cohesion so complex to achieve?
  • What approach should be taken to develop team cohesion?
  • What is the role of the leader in this development process?

First, let’s review the basics of teamwork.

What dictates team cohesion

A team’s mission is to produce results. And the way team members interact influences the achievement and quality of results.

However, simply grouping a few talented and well-intentioned people together does not ensure they will be united and work together effectively.

The team’s productivity depends on the structures that frame it, such as clarity of objectives, responsibilities, alignment, decision-making processes, etc.

Its performance also stems from the behaviors adopted to foster a positive climate within the team, such as trust, respect, optimism, valuing diversity, etc.

When these conditions are met, the team achieves quality results sustainably.

But, you might ask, how do we develop the essential factors for team performance?

A team is a complex system

First, it’s important to understand that a team is a complex system that goes beyond individual skills. A set of rules governs the interactions between its members. These make the team stronger and more sustainable than any of its members. Add a new member, and you’ll see they assimilate the ways of being and doing in no time. If not, the team will reject them.

Indeed, while known structures establish certain rules of the game, there are also several unwritten norms that naturally emerge over the team’s history, such as:

  • Expectations
  • Beliefs
  • Values
  • Accepted behaviors
  • Taboos

Therefore, evolving organizational structures alone is not enough to ensure team cohesion and performance. It’s also essential to make the unwritten rules visible, remedy those that are harmful, and reinforce the best ones.

To achieve this, I propose below a development process that has proven effective. It relies on the approach developed by TCI. Applied since 2005 to thousands of teams around the world, it promotes a significant improvement over a period of 6 to 8 months when teams engage rigorously in this process.

Team Cohesion Development Process

I won’t surprise you by writing that the team development process goes through the same phases as any good improvement program, as illustrated below.

 

In short:

 

Phase 1: Explore

The exploration phase engages the team in the development process and sets the stage for subsequent phases.

Its objectives are to allow the team to discuss and agree on:

 

  • A concrete and motivating team performance target;
  • The rules of conduct necessary for discussions to be frank, open, and without risk of retaliation.

 

Phase 2: Evaluate

The evaluation phase aims to answer the following questions:

 

  • What does our team look like right now?
  • To what extent is this working for us?
  • What awareness does this raise?
  • What do we want to change?

 

This step generally starts with a team diagnosis. Although not absolutely necessary, it provides a concrete picture of the team’s performance, reveals blind spots, and serves as a reference point for reevaluating the team’s progress after a few months of effort. Otherwise, a reflection session with the team is needed to highlight its strengths and weaknesses.

 

Phase 3: Act

Thanks to the previous phase and the awareness that comes from it, the team is able to identify the most promising solution paths to improve its performance.

These must be very concrete and form the team’s action plan, with targeted dates and responsibilities.

They can be of various natures, such as:

  • Developing knowledge (for example: improving, over the next three months, our knowledge of governance);
  • Improving know-how (for example: reviewing, by the end of the quarter, the distribution of responsibilities because there are confusions that make work inefficient);
  • Strengthening being (for example: having the courage to clearly express our opinions in committee, even if they may be controversial).

 

Phase 4: Re-evaluate

Regular progress review is essential to keep focus and ensure that improvements take hold. The important thing is to progress, not to be perfect.

It also allows for the adjustment of some solutions as needed, based on the lessons learned from experimentation.

If a diagnostic test was carried out at the beginning of the process, then this test can be repeated six to eight months later. Progress can thus be concretely measured by comparing the results before and after the implementation of the action plan.

 

The role of the team leader

A word on the role of the team leader in all this.

Of course, they are accountable for the team’s performance and the results achieved. They determine the structures with which the team must work. However, each team member, just like the leader, is responsible for the team’s performance. Each decides on the quality of their contributions and interactions, as well as the support they offer to other team members. The leader decides on the structures, but it is up to everyone to interact effectively, including the leader.

Also, to improve team cohesion, the commitment of each of its members is non-negotiable. The team leader alone cannot bring about significant changes. At best, they can provoke them.

To do this, the leader might consider being accompanied by an experienced coach in improving team performance. Indeed, being adequately accompanied has several advantages:

 

  • The coach orchestrates the team development process;
  • They are able to propose a diagnostic test that will serve as the basis for the evaluation phase;
  • They prepare and facilitate discussion sessions, allowing the leader to play the role of a team member and participate in discussions just like the others;
  • As an impartial observer, the coach is in a privileged position to reveal to the team behaviors invisible to it;
  • As an expert in the coaching process, they facilitate learning;
  • In case of difficult or conflictual situations, they can also intervene.

 

In conclusion… I leave you with a quote from Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.

It is not finance, strategy, or technology, but teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, because it is so powerful and so rare.” – Patrick Lencioni

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