Great teamwork is inspiring - as a participant or an observer. At some stage most of us have either experienced or benefited from it - in areas as diverse as sport, education, the arts and not forgetting businesses. So what are the features of a team that ensure or improve its cohesion? In this blog, we’ll create a checklist that you can build on or refine as you see fit.
An effective team knows why it exists. It can articulate this using shared language that all of its members understand and support. This may sound obvious yet in our experience, it isn’t. We come across surprisingly few teams that can express why they exist and even fewer that can do so with a high degree of consistency and clarity. The first prerequisite for a cohesive team is for its members to know and be able to articulate its purpose.
The function of a leader is to chart the course between the outcomes a team is accountable for and its present reality, and both inspire, organise, equip and support team members to pursue and stay the course in the face of the challenges and obstacles that will arise. Leaders need to ensure a team remains clear-sighted about the bigger picture, motivated to deliver results and that they have both the capacity and capability to do so. Leadership can take many forms and styles, however the function is critical to the creation and maintenance of team cohesion.
A further and critical function of leadership is to assemble the right team in the first place, meaning one whose members have the individual and collective capability to deliver the results being asked of them by leveraging complementary aptitudes, learned skills, knowledge and experience. Over time, the optimum blend of these attributes may change, team members may leave the organisation and new employees join. As in sport when we see team managers make substitutions in the light of a team’s performance in a fixture, team leaders in business must also ensure that a team and its membership remain fit for purpose in the light of evolving circumstances and be prepared to make changes where necessary.
Scope, Strategy and Measures of Success
Another foundation for cohesion is that a team understands the scope of its work in fulfilling its purpose, its strategies for doing so and what success looks like. We are concerned here with answers to questions beginning with ‘what’ that are the domain of leadership: what will the team invest its time and effort into (and what will it choose not to focus on), what is it accountable for and what is the extent of its authority? Very importantly: what are the team’s objectives and key results (OKR’s)?
Organisation and Ways of Working
How a team is structured and goes about its work will have a direct bearing on, and be a reflection of its cohesion. To deliver results, a team’s structure (hierarchical vs. flat, one or multiple working groups), systems (CRM or accounting, for example), procedures (meeting management, decision-making, communication) and metrics (lead and lag measures) need to align with its purpose, strategy and definition of success. Put bluntly, is the team organised and equipped to deliver the outcomes it is accountable for efficiently and effectively?
Values, Beliefs and Behaviours
What a team holds as important (values such as speed, thoroughness, creativity, caution, diversity), or true (beliefs such as ‘the customer is always right’, views from the front-line carry the most weight or ‘standing up to the MD will get us nowhere’) will determine its mindset (e.g., the potential for ‘group-think’) and behaviours - the most visible aspect of the team. Together, the team’s values, beliefs, mindset and behaviours will exert significant influence over the speed and quality of its decision-making. A key distinction here is whether they are implicit or explicit: have the team’s values, beliefs and behaviours been arrived at by default or by design? If by design, check when the most recent review was held to confirm they are still fit for purpose and that all team members are aware and supportive of them.
Recognition and Reward
This area of strategy can create powerful emotional responses that can enhance or destroy a team’s cohesion, especially when it is relied on by leaders as the sole or predominant lever in their motivational armoury. The way a team and its members are recognised for their efforts, rewarded for results and equally managed in the event of under-performance are critical for the creation and maintenance of cohesion over time. Whilst there is no easy panacea, the more this can be made transparent and the subject of regular review with a team to ensure a shared understanding and sense of fairness consistent with the commercial goals of the team, the more likely the impact will be positive.
The physical environment that a team works in should ideally facilitate its work and reflect its values. If creativity is a value of the team, does its place of work facilitate this? Do the furniture, fixtures and fittings, decoration and layout reflect that creative thinking is important, or would a visitor struggle to make the link between this value and the workplace environment? Such physical attributes can make a huge difference to team cohesion and send many implicit signals to employees and customers alike.
Hopefully our view is clear by now that there is much more to team cohesion than ping pong tables and pizza nights. Nonetheless, we are all human and every now and again most of us appreciate an opportunity to relax and make connections in ways that are beyond the scope of our everyday roles and responsibilities. Metaphorically speaking, a little ‘pizza’ can go a long way.
In future blog posts, we will look into some of these areas in more detail and you may want to add to the list. Enabling and maintaining great teamwork can be one of the most challenging, rewarding and sometimes frustrating aspects of running a business.