What must be given for a group of individuals to form a functional team? A well-functioning team is an essential part of efficient software development. And recently we had an interessting discussion about group cohesion and team spirit in companies.
It started with the observation that there are some teams that have developed a very good team cohesion and work very closely together. On the other hand, there are also teams that work together but are only very loosely connected. So we asked ourselves why a sense of togetherness develops in some teams and not in others?!
Group cohesion and team spirit
Group cohesion is the measure of group togetherness. A team with a high group cohesion has a strong sense of community, whereas a team with a low group cohesion has less feeling of togetherness. Ideally, high group cohesion results in what is generally referred to as team spirit.
Team spirit means that an individual decides to put aside his or her own needs in favour of a group. This is often done for very rational reasons, i.e. for the individual it is simply more advantageous to act in a group than alone.
Advantages of a good team spirit
The advantages of high cohesion and team spirit are obvious:
- these teams can potentially achieve more than the sum of their parts
- these teams are robust against external disturbances (challenges / stress)
- they give the individual a sense of belonging and security
- allow the individual to better show his or her strengths
- promotes ideas and innovations through a protected space
Factors for group cohesion
The formation of high group cohesion depends largely on the fundamental willingness and ability of the individual to open up to a team. In addition, there are some factors that promote the formation of high group cohesion:
- Attitudes and values: When you are among people with similar opinions (homogeneity) and beliefs, there is less friction and more support. The climate is friendlier and when it comes to getting tasks done, it is a matter of doing the right thing.
- Social comparisons: Comparison and differentiation to other groups makes a group feel more connected.
- Common interaction : The frequency and quality of interaction are crucial for team building. So is how much time a team spends together.
- Trust: Mutual trust creates the space for new ideas and innovation by allowing strengths to be brought to bear and mistakes to be made.
- Interdependence: Doing tasks that are dependent on each other builds a sense of fellowship.
- Status: High status groups generate greater loyalty among their members. A higher barrier to entry can provide a more exclusive status.
- Competition: Competition with other groups can mean that group members need to work more closely together and differentiate themselves from other groups.
- Perceived threat: Team cohesion and commitment can be strengthened when there is a perceived threat in the form of specific challenges or the threat of disintegration from outside.
- Barriers to leave: The fewer options individual group members have to join other groups, the more willing they will be to stay with the existing team.
- Low turnover: If group members are constantly leaving, there is a lack of stability. Team members need to form bonds so that cohesion can develop.
- Team size: The smaller the group, the more likely personal contacts and better interactions. Cohesion in a larger group is more difficult to build because interactions within the group are not as frequent. There can be more tension when members disagree and it is harder for everyone to agree on common goals.
- Positive manager behaviour: Managers have a direct impact on team cohesion. If they choose to encourage unhealthy behaviours such as competition, they can create fractures within the group. The definition of team cohesion is solidarity, and managers need to take care of this dynamic.
Promoting team cohesion
If you, as a manager or as a team, want to strengthen the cohesion within the team, you can select one or more factors and strengthen them in a targeted way, e.g:
- regular and more varied exchange for a team
- a challenge that the team can only solve as a whole
- Strengthen the attractiveness of a team by promoting it.
- ensure healthy competition with other teams
- distribute tasks according to the strengths of the team members
- create a safe place within the team for ideas and innovation.
In this way, you have a whole toolbox of ways to shape a team and strengthen cohesion. Keep in mind that some of these examples come with a drawback and are not guaranteed to work. You have to vary them depending on the team and the situation and always keep in mind that you are working with real people.
Team spirit and performance
As a manager, you immediately ask yourself whether a high level of team cohesion also goes hand in hand with higher performance. Surprisingly, this is not directly the case. Team spirit should rather be seen as the basis for high performance and not as the decisive reason. And there are two reasons for this:
- the team must have values and norms that are geared towards high performance (mindset)
- the team’s values and norms must be in line with the company’s goals (alignment).
If this is not the case, a cohesive team may not be productive or may work past the company’s goals because it is pursuing goals elsewhere.
If you want to strengthen your cohesion as a leader or as a team, you can try to focus on strengthening certain factors mentioned above and see how the cohesion within your team changes. Keep in mind that, as with most interpersonal relationships, this is a process that takes time, mutual trust and the will to change.