Have you ever gathered a team of highly effective people only to discover they lacked cohesion and didn’t perform well together? What does it look like when your team members butt heads? How would you characterize them at that moment? Where do you need to step in?
So far, we’ve made a big deal of company culture in 2021. Continuing that theme, team cohesion is one of the essential elements of a strong culture. Today, we’re giving you five tools for developing stronger cohesion between your people, and with the organization itself.
Psychologist Bruce Tuckman described the “Developmental Sequence in Small Groups” in 1965. This sequence includes 4 steps that teams move through on their way to cohesion and high performance. If you want to see greater cohesion in your teams, adjust your leadership style by asking whether your team is FORMING, STORMING, NORMING or PERFORMING:
Moderate Effectiveness, Low Performance
If your team is FORMING, they’re just now coming together to work. Perhaps it’s the first time they’ve ever met one another. They’re exchanging introductions and sizing one another up. On the job, they’re acting as individuals, each on their own part and according to their personal skills. They’re unlikely to have a common vision for what they’re supposed to be doing.
How to Lead: Be on-task, and clear about your assignments to each team member. Value clarity, vision, and goal-setting.
Key Skills: Vision-Crafting and Alignment-Building. Prioritizing the Big Picture. Speaking Out. Exploring Implications. Explaining Rationale. Structuring Messaging.
Low Effectiveness, Low Performance
This is where things get rough. Personalities clash, and if they do not have clear roles, then the team members may jockey for positions of authority. It’s possible that each person in the room thinks they know the best way to guide the team.
How to Lead: Your team is likely to be reactive to your leadership—in good ways, and in bad. Allow them to work out their own problems, but not at the expense of work. Promote group cohesion by coming alongside them in tasks, modeling flexibility and creativity.
Key Skills: Alignment-Building and Executing. Explaining Rationale. Structuring Messaging. Exchanging Perspectives. Being Receptive. Being Expressive. Being Encouraging. Initiating Action. Providing a Plan. Analyzing In-Depth. Addressing Problems.
Good Effectiveness, Moderate to Good Performance
Your team starts NORMING when they’ve reached some level of cooperation and consensus. They’re clear on their roles, and can start getting things done. Patterns and habits take root, and an actual work culture emerges.
How to Lead: You can take a step back here. Your team is becoming more task-oriented in their own right, and you can focus on building relationships and senses of individual responsibility. Have fun with them and be liberal with your feedback.
Key Skills: Alignment-Building and Executing. Exchanging Perspectives. Being Receptive. Being Expressive. Being Encouraging. Offering Praise.
Excellent Effectiveness, Excellent Performance
Things are getting done! Your team has a clear work system, and a shared vision. They can act on their own, without too much intervention, and you know they will resolve their issues in positive ways.
How to Lead: As your team becomes autonomous and can take the wheel without you, you can start delegating. Aid in planning and problem-solving when needed; otherwise, focus on mentoring, coaching, and recognizing excellent work.
Key Skills: Executing. Being Driven. Providing a Plan. Analyzing In-Depth. Offering Praise.
Rally Around Your Values
Many teams experience eroded morale when they lose sight of where their work fits into the larger mission of the company. If your people are feeling adrift—especially during the Forming and Storming stages described above—rallying around company values is a great way to restore team cohesion.
If you have a team in mind, or other key people, gather them together and have a short retrospective about their time in the company:
- When / where did they see a value identified or established?
- When / where did they see a value lived out in an exemplary way?
- When / where did they see a value called into question?
- When / where was a core value changed or redefined?
- When / where have they encountered a decision to act or not act on a value?
- What were you doing as a company when you strengthened these values or called them into question?
- Do you see any relationships between your team behaviors at the time and the strengthening / crises of your values?
Record the most important takeaways from this conversation, and post them in a place that is visible to all team members.
Create a Charter for Team Cohesion
A natural follow-up to the above exercise, Creating a Team Charter in your organization encourages team cohesion and exploratory thought. In her book Thinking in Bets, Annie Duke recommends that a team charter should:
- Reward truth-seeking, objectivity and open mindedness.
- Create accountability, for which the group should have advance notice.
- Reward openness to various ideas. This produces strong bonds among group members and encourages them to collaborate through sound reasoning.
A good Charter is unambiguous to all members. It establishes a “code of conduct” that combats resulting, complaining, and self-serving bias. For those who need to vent, build a “Dissent Channel” into the Charter. The Dissent Channel should reward contrary opinions for the sake of diversifying information streams. You can reinforce your Charter by creating tangible rewards for team members who live up to it, expressing self-criticism, patience, and sound judgment. This positive reinforcement strengthens team cohesion and boosts morale, making team members feel more confident and competent.
As for the content of your Charter, Duke also recommends the acronym CUDOS (taken from Robert K. Merton’s 1973 work The Normative Structure of Science) for those unsure of how to get started. Design a graphic around the following values and hang them where they are visible to all your teams:
- COMMUNISM: All data belongs equally to everyone in the organization.
- UNIVERSALISM: Apply uniform evaluation standards to all claims and evidence, regardless of where they come from.
- DISINTERESTEDNESS: Remain vigilant against conflicts of interest and self-serving bias that can influence group evaluations and decisions.
- ORGANIZED SKEPTICISM: Foster discussion among the group to encourage engagement and dissent.
Write Your Own Charter
If CUDOS doesn’t point your people towards the culture you want, try building your own Charter using the questions below:
|WHO ARE WE?
- What are the names of all the team members?
- Who are the key stakeholders holding the team responsible?
- Who is accountable for the team’s results?
|WHAT ARE OUR STRENGTHS?
- What are our existing capabilities and resources?
- What potentials for synergy exist with other departments?
- What services and resources can we offer to or call on from others?
|WHAT DO WE DO HERE?
- What is the purpose and mission of this team?
- What have we been hired and organized to do?
- How does our micro-strategy support the company’s macro-strategy?
|WHY DOES THE ORG. NEED US?
- Who else in the organization can’t do their own job without us?
- What core value of the company cannot be lived out without us?
- Who else are we holding accountable?
|WHAT ARE OUR GOALS?
- What objectives do we want to accomplish?
- What are our OKRs?
- What ambitious change do we want to effect in this season?
|HOW DO WE GET THINGS DONE?
- What roles and responsibilities exist on this team?
- What and where are our documented processes?
- How do we communicate with and acknowledge one another?
Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team®
There’s delayed gratification, and there’s also delayed disintegration. Though you may see the tensions in your team, diagnosing their causes is another issue entirely. Team dysfunction is not part of the normal pain of work and failing to identify its source will grind your operations to a halt. When this happens, data-driven assessments and professional coaching are always an invaluable option. Based on the work of author Patrick Lencioni, Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team exists to intercept team dysfunction and get you working together again.
This assessment measures team performance in 5 key areas: Trust, Conflict, Commitment, Accountability, and Results. You can then compare yourselves to baselines set by top-performing teams all over the world. The results interface easily with other assessments like DiSC Work of Leaders and Agile EQ, allowing you to manage change through goals you’ve set using those other tools. Comparison reports help you create new rules of engagement between your team members, allowing you to prioritize the places where your team needs to practice their way forward.
Discover Team Cohesion with PXT Select™
You don’t always have to wait for dysfunction to set in before thinking about team cohesion. Sometimes, you want to assess your company culture proactively. If you’re considering a new hire, for instance, do you want to reinforce a strong and cohesive culture, or shake things up?
The PXT Select™ suite of assessments provides talent management tools that help leaders and managers collect accurate, objective, and reliable data to select, manage, develop, and retain employees that drive results. The Team Report is a hidden gem amongst these assessments, and can help team leaders and team members address group dynamics in constructive ways. Each team member can receive a personalized report, with narrative feedback explaining what the results may mean for them or the team. Whether you’re selecting a new hire, onboarding someone, coaching them, or diagnosing team tension, these reports help your people understand their similarities and differences. You will also receive tailored coaching and mentorship guidance for onboarding, helping you accelerate team development, growth, and integration into your larger company culture.