Building cohesion in your teams

In the last edition of NARU eNews the importance of team cohesion for emergency preparedness was discussed. In this article, some of the factors that help to develop team cohesion are outlined by Dr Tony Zarola, NARU Lead for Research and Evaluation.

First, let’s return to the concept of cohesion. As outlined, the concept of cohesion is an important aspect for group functioning. Cohesion is also multi-dimensional, meaning that there are different types of cohesion, with the two most frequently identified types being social and task cohesion.

EEAST Train RescueSocial cohesion refers to the sense that team members ‘feel’ that they belong to their group. Task cohesion refers to level of coordination and connection between the job tasks of different team members. Although the various forms of cohesion are likely to be influenced by – and will influence – different things, our research has identified a number of common factors that are critical for the development of cohesion within teams responding to major incidents. Three of these factors are outlined in a little more detail below:

  1. Supportive Leadership

Leaders (e.g. line managers, unit / divisional leaders) that are perceived to be and display supportive behaviours have teams with greater levels of cohesion. Some of the more common supportive behaviours include being available to staff when necessary, helping to set clear goals, making time to listen to staff views and encouraging togetherness.

  1. Skill Maintenance

The more that team members experience an environment where their skills are being stretched and maintained through their job/task demands, the greater their levels of cohesion. Skill maintenance refers to activities that enable staff to experience opportunities for skill application, reflection and review. In addition, providing staff with the opportunity to consolidate their skills through appropriate (high quality and timely) training ensures skills that are learned can be maintained.

  1. Role Certainty

There is nothing more disruptive than feeling unsure or uncertain about your job role. This is particularly the case when individuals are expected to operate within interdependent teams where goals and objectives are closely tied to the well-coordinated behaviour of others. Greater levels of team cohesion are found when staff report knowing a) what their responsibilities are, b) how what they do fits with the roles and responsibilities of other team members, and c) how through their tasks / job role they contribute to the wider team, unit or organisational objectives.

While the three factors highlighted above are not the only drivers for team cohesion, their existence raises the probability of developing teams that have greater levels of shared awareness and are able to perform well under pressure.

EEAST HART_It must be remembered that cohesion does not just happen by putting people together. Leaders need to become masters at creating an environment that enables individuals to develop a shared understanding. This occurs through supportive leadership (see above) and also through enabling and sharing collective learning. Collective learning results from well-coordinated and regular activities such as debriefing, reflective practice and group based action planning.

Finally, and for those that still need convincing, cohesive teams do provide added value. Our research has established that individuals who report experiencing higher levels of task connectivity (e.g. shared goals) also report higher levels of motivation and determination to achieve their own performance goals as well as the performance goals of their team.

If you have any comments on this article or wish to find out more about the work on team cohesion and identity, please contact Dr Tony Zarola at Zeal Solutions on tony@zealsolutions.co.uk