We often hear much about "miracle" sports teams such as the 1986 New York Mets, U.S. Hockey's Soviet Union defeating team, and even this year's curse-destroying Boston Red Sox. Long after the individual exploits of individual players are forgotten, the team effort and lore will remain. Sometimes, the team stories will even build over time. For instance, today baseball fans will remember the 1986 New York Mets as an underdog team that surmounted insurmountable odds to capture the World Series. In reality, the Mets were heavily favored that year, and had to be saved by the opposing Boston Red Sox's errant play.
Why is the concept of team so powerful in history? Because it means so much in the present. Specifically, the "chemistry" by which a team is brought together contributes to a team's success more than any other single factor. Group cohesion means more to a team than rigid performance expectations, technology investment or even star team members.
In fact, group cohesion is the most studied area of human resources management at the masters in business administration level. Professors and leading managers alike have come to realize that their time is best spent fostering a cohesive organizational environment. Rather than individually motivate everyone at the organization, strive to create an environment in which they motivate one another, and your job is done.
One of the key components to creating group cohesion is empathetic leadership. Ken Blanchard and Marc Muchnick, authors of "The Leadership Pill," note group cohesion as the leading quality to seek in the "Effective Leader." And the most effective way to foster group cohesion is through the power of affirmation.
Blanchard and Muchnick implore managers and human resources professionals to work together to bestow awards and recognition whenever possible. "Each of us has the power to recognize the goodness in others," they claim. "The Effective Leader's team found that there were endless opportunities to award 'Here's a Salute to You' certificate to deserving [employees]." (Blanchard & Muchnick, 91).
A group is motivated by salaries and bonuses, yes, but as humans, we desire to work together in an environment where we are recognized in more social ways for the work we have done well. A leader wants to foster a situation in which each member of a group understands that he or she will get the credit for a job well done, and that their leaders will not pilfer the recognition. This generosity of praise will crate an organization that feeds off its own internal energy, and that is the most desirable outcome.
What is trickier, Blanchard and Muchnick note, is to provide affirmation to members of an organization who are not performing up to par. "The Effective Leader knew that underperforming individuals were still capable of doing a good job. Instead of focusing his energy on their poor performance, he redirected their behaviors to get them back on track. To do this, he sat down with them to establish revised game plans, assigned them to projects where their talents could be better utilized, or enlisted their fellow team members to serve as mentors. The Effective Leader then affirmed these individuals with praise when their performance improved." (Blanchard & Muchnick, 91)
Let us look at each of these individual steps in fostering a group cohesion environment. First, sitting down with team members to establish revised game plans. The first step to fostering a positive team environment is realistic expectations. A leader cannot expect results that are completely unrealistic, and if such goals are set, and underperformance results, more often than not, the problem is the goal itself and not the results.
That is why the effective leader must revise his or her own game plan to foster group cohesion. A team is only as powerful as its weakest link, as we so often hear, so we must work hard to ensure that the weakest link is up to speed.
Once the leader sits down with the weakest link, she assigns them to tasks they can actually complete and complete well. That is a critical understanding in group cohesion. In order for a group to work together and succeed, each member must work efficiently, and in order to do that, each member must be tasked to something he or she can actually accomplish. Teams will strive when they are reassigned to roles that they all can fill properly and with gusto.
The main group cohesion observation comes in the next step in reassignment. The effective leader assigns mentors to the underperforming and reassigned team members. This way, the team members do not feel that they are under constant scrutiny by the leader; they have peers to whom they can go with their problems and concerns. And, presumably, the peers are highly successful, so they can serve as roll models for the newly reassigned team members as well. All in all, this cohesion effort is key: Not only does it provide one more opportunity for team members to work together, it sets up a backdrop of poorer workers emulating stronger workers.
And finally, back to affirmation. Once the cohesion reassignments and mentoring work out -- i.e., the underperforming team members have improved, even if only slightly -- the leader must recognize their efforts. And not only the efforts of the underperforming workers, but the mentors and other group members as well who were involved in the reassignment process.
Another key component of group cohesion is in an area directly pertaining to groups: meetings. When members of a group are actually face-to-face, they have to have a means by which they can work together to foster group cohesion. That is what Patrick Lencioni tries to discover in his treatise, "Death by Meeting." He examines meetings in all their forms to determine what the most effective ways are to foster group cohesion in the meeting environment.
Lencioni suggests four types of meetings: the daily check-in, the weekly tactical, the monthly strategic and the quarterly off-site review.
First, the most critical: the daily check-in. Lencioni advocates a five-minute meeting daily to "share daily schedules and activities" among team members. (Lencioni, 249) The keys to success in these meetings are to not sit down, keep it administrative and not to cancel even when some people cannot be there. The purpose of the daily check-in is to simply foster that team spirit so no individual gets too far behind. If a team member is straggling, and there are no daily meetings, the straggling could go on for up to a week if that team member does not feel comfortable enough to ask a mentor or leader what to do.
With the daily check-in, the concept of team is really built. Team members know with whom they work, and build team chemistry, which as we discussed earlier, is one of the key components of group cohesion.
Then, the second: the weekly tactical: This is a 45 minute meeting in which the team "reviews weekly activities and metrics, and resolves tactical obstacles and issues." (Lencioni, 249) The keys here are to not set the agenda before the initial reporting as to where team members stand on projects, and to postpone any strategic discussions, regardless of how pressing they seem. That last step is quite hard to accomplish: Naturally our temptation is to tackle problems head on, but sometimes group cohesion is hurt in the process. Other member's issues cannot be brought to the forefront if all the time is spent discussing one set of strategic problems.
In the weekly meeting, the team will dictate the direction of the meeting based on its initial reporting. Allow the team members to ask for what they need to better their team environment, and see if others in the team can provide that information or help. Use this weekly meeting to truly build the team cohesion spirit.
Then there is the monthly strategic meeting, which Lencioni argues is the most important in building group cohesion. This meeting lasts two to four hours and allows team members to "discuss, analyze, brainstorm and decide upon critical issues affecting long-term success." (Lencioni, 249) Here is where team members work together to decide the direction their team is headed in. The strategic questions tabled in the weekly meetings are handled here.
In these meetings, effective leaders should allow team members to take the lead. Whenever possible, allow them to work together to define goals, as then they will feel more motivated to meet and exceed them. The trick here is to have the pressure build internally among the team, and not externally from the leader. And when success is achieved, affirmation is key again: The leader should use these monthly meetings to recognize overperforming groups or individuals, thereby fostering group cohesion yet again.
And finally, according to Lencioni, is the quarterly off-site review. Here, in a meeting that lasts one or two days, the team "reviews strategy, industry trends, competitive landscape, key personnel and team development." (Lencioni, 249)…