Lauren left Tuesday’s team meeting feeling the strain of the heated discussions that had filled the two hours. She wondered how they would ever get anything decided with so many ideas and opinions at play. When she mentioned her concerns over the lack of cohesion to the team leader, Brenda, she was surprised to learn that Brenda was thrilled with the energetic exchange of opposing perspectives at the meeting. Lauren wanted more cohesion while Brenda prized conflicting standpoints.
Lauren and Brenda needed to address a common question: How much team cohesion is necessary to make progress and how much cohesion is too much? Finding the right balance of team cohesion is critical to creating a thriving team culture and achieving top performance.
Working together as a cohesive team aligns diverse individuals to achieve a common goal. Unity among team members is vital to coordinate efforts and accomplish plans. Yet, if differing perspectives are ignored, the team can miss out on valuable insights. Follow these three principles to cultivate the right amount of cohesion for your team.
Value Diverse Voices
Like a sports team, everyone on your team should have a distinct role. If everyone plays the position of pitcher, the team loses out on the strengths of diverse skill sets and robust collaboration. Each team member brings unique skills, experiences, and perspectives to the team that benefit everyone. But these differences can only optimize the team’s performance when they are fully appreciated and engaged in the course of working together.
Cohesion in the team context is not characterized by perfect agreement. Instead, cohesion exists when the team embraces respectful disagreement as a way of sharpening each other’s ideas and exploring a range of perspectives. At team meetings, every team member should be given an opportunity to offer input so the team learns from each other and ideas are carefully vetted. Cultivating a team culture that encourages open disagreement by valuing diverse voices leads to deeper cohesion in the end. Too much agreement can be a sign of toxic cohesion if groupthink is taking root.
Get Out of Groupthink
Sometimes a group becomes so aligned in its values, ideas, and opinions that it falls into a pattern of groupthink. It might seem that easy agreement is the hallmark of a well-functioning team. However, too much cohesion – from groupthink or yes-men/women – limits the team’s ability to innovate and critically analyze the merits of an idea or decision. Cohesion does not require consensus.
Constructive team interactions need a healthy dose of differing perspectives that spark greater creativity and inspire critical thinking. If each team member brings unique expertise to the whole, it is natural for the group to enjoy some rousing disagreement. If, however, the team has begun to think together, coming up with the same solutions and achieving consensus without critical inquiry, then it’s time to shake things up. Spend time discovering points of disagreement so the team can break out of the rut of groupthink and perform at its best.
Unite for a Common Cause
Once team members have thoroughly expressed their differences, it’s time for them to unite for a common cause. The cause may be completing the work project or moving toward a broader team goal. Either way, when team differences are expressed with the intent of achieving the best outcome, the interaction builds team cohesion through a shared purpose. Although team members will propose different paths to achieve the same purpose, they can respect the insights each person shares. The plan that ultimately develops through discussion and even debate is more likely to succeed because team members used their unique perspectives to examine the plan from all sides.
Team cohesion is bolstered as team members share ideas and decide together on the best course of action. When everyone has a voice and feels heard, they are more likely to buy-in to the final decision, even if they didn’t agree with it. Cohesion, then, is not about avoiding competing voices or arriving at consensus quickly. Team cohesion exists in each team member’s commitment to the good of the team and the willingness to speak up to identify potential problems or propose new solutions.