Why is Team Cohesion Important in The Workplace?
Strong team cohesion has often been labelled as a goal that organisations should work towards. Many such groups have implemented team building and team bonding exercises in order to build this cohesion. Some methods may work and some may not. In order to find out what works for your organisation, we first have to understand why team cohesion is so important.
Firstly, high-performing teams show patterns of greater cohesiveness, affinity, and productivity in the workplace, where these teams build brand appeal and long-term value for the company (Pentland, 2015). As such, we can see how team cohesiveness and team performance are closely associated, and these predict better professional outcomes for the organisation. Cohesive and engaged teams contribute most to improving productivity by 18%, profitability by 16%, and job growth by 37% Importantly, organisations with highly engaged employees enjoy 100% more job applications than the average organisation (Seppälä & Cameron, 2017).
As we dive deeper beneath the surface, we can see how team cohesion affects employment mood, loyalty, and performance. When there is team cohesion or an active improvement of team cohesion, employees are more likely to stay committed to the organisation and fellow colleagues. Employees will feel a sense of purpose and take pride in their jobs, knowing that they play an integral role in the organisational community and culture. This forged sense of belonging not only helps promote communication among coworkers and across hierarchies, and it can also help to decrease loneliness and a sense of detachment (Seppälä & Cameron, 2017) when employees report for work. Greater cohesion fosters greater approachability: employees are more open and ready to share their work-related problems and also help one another when such situations arise. When solutions are provided and alternative perspectives are taken into account, work efficiency and quality are likely to be boosted. Furthermore, especially in competitive workspaces and in the ‘kiasu’ culture that Singaporeans live in, the workplace may be a stereotypically competitive environment to be in (Bolza, 2016). Over time, this may potentially give rise to a toxic work culture (read more about toxic coworkers here: https://www.inpsychful.sg/toxic-coworkers/). Thus, in order to upkeep a healthy working environment with happy employees, team cohesion is important in making them feel accepted and heard.
Team Building vs Team Bonding
The main difference between the two is that team building says “let’s learn together”, while the team bonding says “let’s have fun together”. Team building is the practice of getting team members united with a common aim. Team building plays a significant role in organisational development with the main purpose of creating basic trust, easing communication, and enhancing collaboration (Tinuke, 2013). Team building activities usually are more work-oriented, where the team activity ties in with work experiences and practices. These are aimed at improving work performance (Lacerenza et al., 2018). Alternatively, team bonding is a method used to connect members and strengthen the relationship between them, and this is usually more relaxed and informal in nature. Team bonding binds the team together to establish positive social relations and provide motivation in meeting their goals (Henttonen et al., 2014). Team bonding is a continuous process that helps to increase loyalty among team members.
Why Most Team Building Exercises Do Not Work
We are no stranger to team-building exercises that ideally help to foster good relationships and chemistry between coworkers as we tackle various obstacles. However, most team building doesn’t work – at least not for the majority (Kelly-Linden, 2012).
While in theory, these exercises can in fact help to achieve these goals of improving team cohesion, most of the time they backfire. It is observed that team-building exercises may not be as inclusive as it should be, and end up alienating some people. Furthermore, for these exercises to work, we have to also consider the willingness of the employees to engage in these activities on top of their own professional work (Kelly-Linden, 2012).
Many team-building activities also tend to focus on problem-solving skills, creativity, and trying to artificially create a ‘shared obstacle to be overcome’ – yet these are not catered to the work environment at hand. Some employees may ask: “when will I ever need to use this experience in my career?”. It may be true – how often will building a tall free-standing tower of marshmallows and uncooked spaghetti help the team to reach their deadlines? When this happens, a supposed team-building exercise has become a mere team bonding exercise without having a solid foundation for the team to even begin with.
Following that, when employees are seemingly ‘forced’ into this mandated programme, even the whole idea of team bonding crumbles, and the exercise becomes a waste of resources. It is easy to forget that building team cohesion should be a natural and mutual process that is enjoyable for the work community (Shuffler et al., 2011). These team-building exercises seem to provide subpar results and do not really fix the inherent team-based problems that organisations have identified in the first place.
How to Build Team Cohesion
How then should organisations build team cohesion in a natural manner? Organisations can start at the ground level, tackling current work environments and culture, in order to provide a healthy and strong foundation to build up team cohesion.
Establish a Shared Mission
This is a recurring theme in many organisational implementations, and even in these team building activities that we have previously discussed. The idea is for a group to have a central and shared objective (be it an obstacle or goal) to bind them together (Cook, 2009). However, it does not have to be so deliberately created as seen in team-building activities. Even in the workplace, establishing a shared mission can be done.
Before starting on a project, make it a point to discuss the main goal of the project, and make sure that everyone on the team aligns themselves in accordance with this goal. Collect input from your employees, and make sure that they are part of the goal-setting stage, so that they are involved, engaged, and committed to the cause. After setting the goal, it is also helpful to establish clear milestones that can help the team to get closer to the end goal (Gallup, Inc., 2020).
When everyone works toward the same objective, there would be a boost in job efficiency and quality of work (Valdes-Dapena, 2018). Furthermore, when team members are aligned, this reduces the possible conflict from arising and creating workplace tension.
Harness Individual Strengths
Organisations are not simply a group of people, but a group of individuals with their own strengths, weaknesses, and objectives. It is thus important to look at your employees as their own unique person, and see how these differences in individual strengths can help to contribute to the project or task at hand. Employees are not robots with a singular way of thinking but dynamic, being able to value-add to the outcome.
Thus, when organisations are thinking about building team cohesion, they can consider highlighting each employee’s personal strengths and encourage an appreciation for such diversity. During a project, allow employees to do what they do best and lead in different aspects of the project (Gallup, Inc., 2020). By doing so, employees feel recognised and also be in the know about who to approach to tackle specific problems at work, creating greater interaction in the workplace (Tinuke, 2013). This utilisation of individual strengths can definitely help employees to build self-confidence, while also ensuring that they are at their peak performance. As a team, individual strengths can also help employees communicate their good practices and share effective work methods with one another, thus creating a more growth-directed work environment for all.
Create an Emotionally Safe and Objective Feedback Loop
A feedback loop should be established during and after the project to discuss what went well, what did not, and how the team can work together to improve on the next one. Organisations can begin by asking for feedback to get the ball rolling, thus making it a habit for this loop to take place (Shuffler et al., 2018).
This can be done by having weekly check-ins with individual team members so that they can share their views privately, and having a consolidation with the whole team thereafter.
Even when there are dissenting ideas among members, it is important to accept all views and look at them in an objective manner. Having respectful argumentation is good as this positive tension leads team members to have mutual respect and openness (Council, 2019). Team members can change the way they look at other members with alternative perspectives by being accepting and appreciative.
On the part of the management, mistakes should be identified and reviewed but not scorned. It is important for the team to not view mistakes as an indication of failure, but merely a temporary obstacle that can be overcome together (Tinuke, 2013). This helps to keep morale up and also ensure that employees do not feel disheartened being in the team.
When leaders foster this environment where differences are accepted and take the initiative to build the trust, employees are more likely to follow suit and be open as well. With respectful communication between employees, the team can move towards its goal with more clarity. Constructive feedback is always good for the team to appreciate their ability to work together, and also be aware of the parts that they need to work on as a team (Sánchez et al., 2018). Additionally, when management puts in the effort to check in with team members, trust and rapport are created, thus boosting workplace satisfaction among employees.
Celebrate Small Successes Together
When your team successfully accomplishes some of the milestones established at the beginning, it is important that all team members recognise this success and make it a point to celebrate together. No matter how big or small, reaching a milestone means being one step closer to the end goal, thus deserving of a celebration too!
Teams can celebrate together by simply having a drink or meal together, or congratulating each other’s effort in the team’s messenger app. Little notes of acknowledgement can also work – there is no need for grand gestures, as long as they are heartfelt and genuine.
This way, team members feel appreciated for their work and feel even more motivated to work together towards the goal (Müceldili & Erdil, 2015). These successes can also give team members the message that their teamwork has been working, creating even more loyalty amongst members for toiling together as a team.
Encourage Team Bonding Outside of Work
Long-lasting and genuine team cohesion is attainable, especially when we allow team members to forge meaningful relationships with each other outside of the workplace, on a face-to-face basis. Socialisation can help team members go from mere colleagues to friends who can talk to one another even outside of work (Bariso, 2020), and also promote more positive communication patterns among employees (Pentland, 2015).
Teams can engage in daily breakfasts together, or a monthly team dinner where they can focus on non-work discussions. This kind of open communication outside of work can potentially convert into effective workplace communication, where team members are more likely to share their perspectives with one another (Council, 2019). Even during work, management can allow for teams to have a common coffee break time slot for them to come together and chat. While it seems counterintuitive for employees to be on a break at the same time, this can actually have a positive effect on their performance, as employees are predicted to be more productive and energetic thereafter (Pentland, 2015).
When the team makes it a point to unwind together and have fun once in a while, this can help promote positive feelings in the team and relieve work-related stress. Furthermore, by forging genuine friendships among one another, team members feel a greater sense of belonging and are also less likely to engage in conflict with one another.
Camellia Wong (MA), Kam Wing Shan
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