Team cohesion can make or break the workplace – 86% of employees and employers say that lack of collaboration and communication is the cause of workplace failures.
Almost everyone, from company leaders to front-level employees, agrees that team cohesion is one of the most imprint elements of a successful company. Even the best product or most powerful service won’t survive long without a functioning team behind it.
So why is it so hard to achieve and maintain?
While this may be a difficult question to answer, it doesn’t mean that it’s impossible for companies to create a team dynamic that is effective and connected.
With the right approach and organization, businesses can become more successful with a better team environment.
The following guide explains the seven steps of creating and maintaining a cohesive team workplace that’s here to stay.
1. Establish a Mission
The first thing business owners should do when looking to build team cohesion is to work with their team on creating a business statement.
Businesses will likely already have an existing mission statement. But if it’s not working, it may be time to create another one that more accurately reflects the values and culture of the company.
If business leaders do want to keep their existing mission statements, they can work on an additional statement designed for team members.
The bottom line is, though, that some statement of purpose should be created with the team. Even businesses with larger teams should find a way to include everyone, whether it’s hosting a conference for the team or having managers work with their employees and send feedback to the CEO.
But what exactly should be in this mission statement? The mission statement should describe what makes working at that company unique. Maybe it’s the employees’ sense of humor or work ethic.
Mission statements should never be focused on making the most money or attracting the largest number of customers. Instead, it should show how a business values its community.
For instance, consider Starbuck’s mission statement: “To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.”
Its mission statement says nothing about coffee or being successful. Instead, it focuses on creativity and building strong relationships with its customers.
When a mission statement talks about values like creativity, connection, and building something meaningful, it creates a vision.
This vision is a way for team members to imagine a future together. Having something to work for that’s not a tangible goal like money or profits will bring teams together during times of stress and remind them what’s important.
In order for teams to be effective and execute the team mission, they need to understand how they should be working together. Creating ground rules will be a way to establish expectations that everyone on the team will follow.
For ground rules to be effective, everyone on the team needs to agree to share the responsibilities and follow them.
Ground rules can cover areas ranging from how long meetings should last to the way team members should bring up problems.
For example, consider the area of communication expectations. Ground rules could answer questions like:
- How should communication go during team meetings?
- How many people should be in a meeting at a time?
- How quickly should team members respond to emails?
- When should email be used instead of text?
- How should everyone be informed on progress?
A sample set of ground rules could look something like this:
Texts should be used for questions that need to be answered within 24 hours. All other questions should be sent through emails. A weekly email will be sent to team members, updating them on progress.
Discuss the Decision-Making Model
Understanding the decision-making process within a company plays a huge role in how teams function. And even established companies may not have clear guidelines about how decisions are made.
Company leaders should explain their decision-making process and apply it to the team’s ground rules and mission statement. How will this decision-making play a role in enacting the company’s value? How will it affect the expectations for each employee?
For instance, say a new goal is created for all front-level workers of a retail company to reach a new commission goal that’s higher than the last one. Should just the upper-level management have a say in this, or should the front-line employees have a role in the decision to establish what would be realistic?
Different areas of a company will require different decision-making processes, and these should be clearly established so teams know how they should function.
2. Set the Right Goals
Once the business establishes its mission – whether it’s a company mission or a manifesto for employees – it should use this written guide as a way to set goals.
Setting goals build team cohesion because it gives everyone at the company a common purpose. People are united to reach the same end goal and be a part of something that is larger than themselves.
Use SMART Goal Setting
When goal setting with a team, business leaders need to create goals that can be defined and applied to the team. One of the most popular and effective ways to set goals is by using the SMART method.
The SMART in SMART goals stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely.
Specific goals are clearly defined. Specific goals with answer questions like:
- What exactly should be accomplished?
- Who will be responsible?
- What are the steps to get there?
- What makes this goal different than similar initiatives?
Sometimes, company leaders may look to complete too many initiatives in one goal. Setting a specific goal will focus the team on one particular area.
Once a goal is specific, it needs to be measurable. Goals that can be quantified can then be adjusted based on the data so they can help the team tech the finish line.
If the team doesn’t know how they’re doing, they won’t know how to improve. Having a measurable metric will give them an objective reality rather than making them have to guess.
An achievable goal is a definition that may give business leaders a serious reality check. Often, they set goals for their team that aren’t realistically attainable. For example, a retail store may set a commission goal for its employees when it doesn’t generate enough revenue for employees to meet this goal.
When this happens, employees become discouraged and resentful. They won’t be happy to be part of a team. Meanwhile, setting achievable goals will make the team feel challenged but motivated.
Relevant goals make sense for the big picture. Business leaders should ask themselves why they’re setting the goal that they’re setting.
There needs to be a clear reason why a goal is being set. Without relevancy, a goal may simply waste a business’s time and resources.
Timely goals are the last step of the SMART method. Goals need to be defined by a time frame, or otherwise, they could go on forever. To measure success, the business leader and their team need to be on the same page.
What will it look like when the goal has been reached? What’s the time frame to achieve this? These are the questions that are helpful for creating a time frame.
Using these SMART parameters will help ensure that objectives can be reached by the team and that everyone knows their role in the process. SMART goals mean no one will have to guess about their responsibilities or how long they should be spending on a certain task.
Setting goals that will bring a team together is only one part of the process, though. Employees need to be held accountable for their roles in making goals happen. Having strong accountability systems in place will bring teams together because they will be working with each other to reach the end goal.
For instance, consider a goal for all team members to learn a new training system. On their own, employees may not want to learn the system and feel like it’s a burden. But by learning it with their peers, they may feel like it’s a less boring activity.
Accountability also should happen between upper-level and lower-level employees.
Research shows that sharing a goal with someone higher-up than the person will make it more likely that they’ll achieve their goals. This is because they’ll be motivated to impress the person and not want to let them down.
3. Focus on Teamwork
Now that a goal has been set based on the company’s mission statement, it’s time to focus on building the team dynamic.
A team that is comfortable with each other and understands how each other thinks will be much more cohesive than one made up of people who only think about themselves.
Ways to build strong teams include focusing on diversity, implementing trust-building activities, and using ample communication channels.
Build Diverse Teams
Diversity means many things. It refers to differences in age, personality, race, gender, and background, to name a few. A diverse team will have members from all walks of life.
Diverse teams are necessary to improve team cohesion. At first, it may seem counterintuitive. Won’t people argue more or not get along as well if there are too many differences?
While there may be some adjustments at first, a team made up of different people will ultimately adjust and grow to love all of the experiences that people bring to the table.
Diverse teams will even improve a business’s productivity. Research from McKinsey shows that the most diverse companies are the most likely to outperform less diverse peers on profitability.
Company leaders should think about how they can effectively include employees from different backgrounds when they’re building projects. Each team member will have different strengths and weaknesses, so they should look for partnerships that will work well together.
Use Trust Activities
Teams need to be able to be open and vulnerable with each other in order to work cohesively. Business leaders have known this for years, and many have tried using trust-building exercises to create a better group dynamic.
The problem with many trust-building exercises is that they often feel forced or are too silly. It’s difficult to find a good balance between fun and meaningful, but this balance will create the most effective bond between team members.
Having team meals is one way to build trust with one another. Companies can take their employees out to lunch once a week, which will make employees feel appreciated and create an environment for them to spend time together.
Group activities like meals are also a good trust-building activity because they encourage natural interactions between team members. Employees will talk with one another and get to know each other better without having to do a trust fall or wear a blindfold.
Another great way to build a team is to ask them what things they want to learn. Maybe it’s a skill in the workplace or a new hobby. Once everyone shares what activity they want to learn, the team can work together to decide which one they will learn as a group.
Doing this will create a routine for team members to interact in a non-work setting, which will allow them to get to know each other well. This will then translate back to work, where they will be more open with one another.
Create Communication Channels
Lastly, clear channels of communication are a must for building and maintaining a cohesive team. Without the proper ways to communicate, team members will feel disconnected and frustrated.
Communication channels need to be established for each level of the company. For example, there should be a way to communicate within one’s own peer group, talk to their direct superiors, and reach the CEO or other important executives when necessary.
Accessible communication channels are especially necessary for a big organization. Employees shouldn’t feel like they are just a cog in the business.
One way to make team members more comfortable with communicating concerns or suggestions would be to implement an anonymous feedback survey each month.
4. Create Enthusiasm
A strong team connection based on trust and respect for one another is the foundation for any successful business. But once these teams are created, they need to be motivated to reach the goals of the business.
Business leaders need to create enthusiasm in their workplace so that teams remain productive and engaged.
Enthusiasm can be generated by giving employees more freedom, praising them for their successes, and using group incentives to bring employees together.
Allow for Autonomy
While many different styles of management exist, one that will not work for a cohesive team culture is micromanagement. No one likes being told what to do or exactly how they should do their work – they want to modify it based on their work style and preferences.
Business leaders should give employees autonomy if they want a strong team environment. It’s important to understand that autonomy does not mean working in isolation, employees doing whatever they want, or team members working with a net.
Autonomy simply means that workers can shape their work environments to perform their best. Perhaps this means working one fewer day a week but working longer hours. It could also mean organizing their workload how they see fit, rather than how they’re told to.
Employees will still get all of their assigned tasks done, it just may not look the same for everyone. Business leaders need to create an environment that allows everyone to be themselves while maintaining their productivity. It is with this balance that teams will thrive.
Praise is another important way to create enthusiasm among team members. While money is one way to show an employee that they are valued, praise will give them specific examples of times that they’re being appreciated.
Employees who are feel recognized and that their contribution counts will work harder and care more about their work. When this happens team-wide, team members will be more motivated and work together to achieve goals.
If everyone is recognized for what they accomplish, team members will realize that they need everyone to reach the end goal.
Unfortunately, the majority of employees aren’t receiving the recognition that they want. A survey of more than 600,000 US employees found that 53% of them want more recognition from their immediate manager.
Business leaders need to implement ways to praise employees if they want to maintain a strong team dynamic. This could be through a reward system or even by thanking team members publicly during a team meeting.
What praise should not be, though, is insincere. It’s better to give meaningful praise to an employee than to dole out compliments just for the sake of boosting morale. Company leaders should observe their team, notice where they’re excelling and give prizes accordingly.
Use Group Incentives
It’s normal for many employees to fall into a routine. Once they get comfortable in their position and understand the expectations for them, they may not push themselves to succeed anymore.
This happens at many companies and is largely why organizations use incentives to encourage employees to work harder and produce more. Retailers give employees commission, so they try to sell more products. Salesmen receive bonuses if they close more clients.
Having an incentive encourages team members to take their work up a notch. They’ll receive a guaranteed tangible reward for all of their hard work.
Incentives are usually designed for the individual. The more results they achieve, the better the reward. But incentive programs can be just as effective for groups.
For instance, if everyone in a team hits the minimum level of sales for that quarter, the entire department will receive a bonus in addition to the one they would receive by hitting their individual numbers. This will encourage team members to support one another and build stronger connections.
And incentive programs do more than just improve team engagement. They attract quality employees to teams and improve overall performance.
Business owners should look to use long-term incentive programs for their team members rather than short-term ones. Long-term initiatives that run for a year or longer produce a 44% performance increase, while those running a week or less show a 20% increase.
5. Commit to Development
Every company has its own set of priorities so that it can grow to the next level. But it’s the people within the organization that will make this happen. If these employees are constantly growing and developing, the company will naturally grow and develop, too.
When companies prioritize the education of their team members, it will show in the relationships that employees will have with one another.
First, employees will feel more valued and more confident, which will help their relationships. Second, the content of the education opportunities themselves, like emotional awareness training, teaches team members how to connect better with others.
Development opportunities include training, continued learning requirements, and additional educational opportunities being funded by the company.
Offer Leadership & Emotional Training
Teams are made up of people with all different personalities and work styles. Some team members will gravitate more to each other than others, mostly in part due to the way they express themselves.
But even though people are fundamentally different, they can still have strong relationships in the workplace – so long as they understand how to connect with each other.
Offering leadership and emotional training to employees will give them the skill set to work with people that think differently than they do.
Knowing how to communicate and respect others’ boundaries while still being assertive and productive will build a stronger and more cohesive team.
And the better employees know how to work with others, the more valuable they will become to the company. Offering emotional and leadership training is, therefore, one of the most beneficial strategies that will make both the employee and the company better off.
Encourage Cross-Departmental Collaboration
Many companies have different departments that are all responsible for their own tasks. Departments will focus on their niche and may not even interact with one another.
However, a company looking for better team cohesion will encourage these departments to work together on projects. Employees will be exposed to new skills and learn how to solve problems in different ways.
And collaboration will make all efforts of the company much more effective, which will raise cohesion.
For example, say the marketing team and the design team of a company were working on creating a new marketing initiative with a unique design.
In one situation, the design team would finish their design and then send it to the marketing team to create the official strategy. The strategy fell flat because the design didn’t resonate with customers, and both departments resent each other because they felt as though it was the other’s fault.
But say the two collaborate. The design team explains what designs are overdone and which ones will get people’s attention. The marketing team will explain the customer’s pain points and what style will resonate with them. Together, they can create a design that will actually transform the marking of the product.
Employees should be set up for success in their job roles from the start. This means they need all of the tools and resources to be successful from the beginning. To achieve this, they should receive proper training upon starting the job.
This includes both in-person and employees. There should be an established onboarding process, so team members feel comfortable and welcome from the very start.
To encourage everyone to be on the same page in the long run, companies should require continuous learning. For many organizations, this will look like a credit requirement completion every few years.
Certain careers like doctors have to take a required level of classes every few years to keep their license.
Business leaders can apply the same logic to the employees within their companies – team members must complete additional training or updates in their industry to stay competitive in their position.
Fund Additional Education Opportunities
Funding additional education opportunities may be another way to maintain team cohesion. Some employees may want an additional challenge and may grow bored or resentful without ample opportunities.
Gaining access to education opportunities that they don’t have to pay for will encourage them to feel grateful and stay within the company, reducing employee turnover and keeping morale higher.
For instance, some companies offer to pay for the college degree of employees while they work with the company. Others offer to split the tuition for high education.
6. Empower Employees
Empowering employees is another way to build team cohesion. Employees who feel successful and valued in the company will give that back to the people they work with. They’re more likely loo become team players and support their coworkers.
Team members who feel like they have control over what they do will have higher morale. They will then spread this positive attitude to other people in the company, raising employee morale overall.
A few ways to empower employees include implementing feedback, allowing members to modify the systems they work closely with, and keeping them in the know about the company – to name a few.
Just like praise, feedback plays a major role in maintaining team cohesion. But while praise is used mainly to recognize employees and create enthusiasm, feedback is designed to empower employees.
When employees hear constructive suggestions about how they improve, they will see that management cares enough about them as an employee to regularly evaluate their performance.
And just like they will work harder when they’re praised, they’ll work harder when they receive feedback. It all comes down to feeling valued and wanting to give that value back.
The lack of praise that many employees experience is also accompanied by a lack of feedback. Many employees wish they received more feedback and those who don’t are less interested in their work and their peers.
65% of employees desire more feedback, and 4/10 employees who receive little to no feedback are actively disengaged with work.
Allow Them To Modify Systems
Many company leaders like to have control over the operations of their company. They find that it is better if they make all of the major decisions with their top executives and have lower-level employees follow their instructions.
What they often forget is that these front-level employees are the ones with the most understanding of how the company functions on their level. They experience what parts of the system work and what parts don’t.
When they receive word from the top of the company that their job should be performed a certain way or that part of their routine will be modified, they may grow frustrated.
In many cases, they’re asked to make changes that won’t be effective in the job they’re performing.
Meanwhile, employees who can make modifications to systems will feel more empowered during their work. They’ll form a stronger relationship with their peers as they work to make a system or work process better for everyone.
Keep Them in the Know
Employees who know about the inner workings of their company will drive better team cohesion.
Here’s why: team members will feel trusted by the company, which will make them feel more valuable. In turn, they will place more value into their work by trying harder to perform well and get along with their teams. Teams will get along better when everyone feels as if they understand how the company’s doing and how their role plays a part in that.
Of course, business leaders don’t have to share confidential information that could cause stress or panic. For instance, a company leader would have to be careful about delivering news that they lost a major client and why.
But other areas like production and fulfillment are great opportunities to share information with employees. For instance, showing salesmen how the company makes the product they sell may make them feel a more integrated part of the process.
No organization wants to be known for mistakes. After all, mistakes cost time and money to fix. Too many mistakes will result in a loss of business.
As such, many business leaders will try to avoid mistakes at all costs. They will promote perfectionism and great attention to detail in their company culture, punishing those who make mistakes.
While fewer mistakes means a less expensive and more productive operation, it also means that employees will feel pressured and dissatisfied.
Employees who always fear that they will be punished for mistakes will never take risks or try to do something better. Everyone will get used to their routine and won’t be happy after long.
When there’s space to make mistakes, employees won’t have to worry about always being perfect. They will be able to focus on developing relationships with their coworkers while continuing to work hard.
Of course, the key to this is the business leader finding the “magic number” of mistakes that makes the job rewarding without allowing people to slack off.
7. Adapt Often
Even after completing all of the steps above, a team is not guaranteed to function perfectly in the long run. Teams are dynamic groups of people who are always changing with time.
Maintaining team cohesion means that business leaders will need to adapt often. This means accepting that the work environment is shifting toward a more one and being able to restructure teams as needed.
Accept Remote Working
Remote work has been growing rapidly. And with the pandemic, work transformed from an option for workers into an expectation. 97% of workers do not want to return to the office full time.
Naturally, if businesses require employees to work 9 to 5 when they don’t want to, they will not be very happy. In addition to not doing their best work, it’s unlikely that they’ll go out of their way to create strong relationships with their peers.
If anything, they may keep to themselves even more so they can get their work done and then get out of the office as soon as possible.
For a cohesive team that will last, business leaders need to recognize that the office of the future won’t look like a team of workers in the same room for 8 hours a day anymore.
Rather, the new “office space” will depend more on virtual connections. Zoom conferences and group chats will be the new way to communicate, allowing people to respond in real-time while living by their own schedule.
And while it may sound more difficult to have a cohesive team over digital methods, many business leaders may find that they actually have a stronger team dynamic than ever before.
Only talking to people via the internet means that communication skills need to be on point, which makes employees feel more respected and satisfied. Team members are happy because they can maintain their work-life balance by being in charge of their own schedules.
Re-Organize Teams as Needed
Team cohesion in the workplace isn’t ever a one-and-done process. Teams are constantly evolving, and as is the company.
What may have worked for months suddenly will stop working. Some teams may only work together well for a few weeks to complete a project and break off when it’s complete, while other teams will last for years and function perfectly.
Having a cohesive team environment has more to do with flexibility and adapting teams than planning or being smart. Even the smartest business leader will have a bad team environment if they refuse to make changes to teams based on how people work with one another.
It’s more than normal for teams to be restructured. Business leaders should conduct regular audits of their teams to see which ones are running smoothly and which ones may need to be rearranged. Solving problems with teams fast will save countless hours and dollars later.
Look for Outside Help
Sometimes, finding problems and making changes may prove necessary for business owners. It is at this stage that a business consultant becomes helpful.
Business consultants are professionals that give clients expert advice in a particular industry like finance or in a particular area of a company like sales or HR.
Companies hire business consultants to help them solve problems that they can’t solve on their own. And even if they may be able to solve these problems, many hire a consultant because the business consultant will be able to do so using fewer resources and less time.
Business consultants will enter a business environment and notice where there are problems with the team dynamic. They may identify troubling partnerships that a CEO has failed to notice for years.
The consultant will then recommend a plan for restructuring teams as needed to match the growing needs of the company. They’re especially effective for finding out what went wrong in an organization that used to have great team cohesion but now has problems.
Business consultants are so effective in adapting team dynamics because they come in as an unknown. Team members already have positive or negative emotions toward their boss, and their actions will likely reflect that.
When a consultant enters a business, they come in without anyone knowing how they operate. People may trust this person more because they will feel like they can be more open with someone who is not a higher-up at the company.
Developing Your Team Cohesion Strategy
While strong team cohesion in the workplace can be hard to achieve, it’s more than possible.
Any business leader can create an effective workplace environment by understanding how people communicate and what motivates them.
To learn more about creating a strategy for your business, reach out to me. I specialize in transforming businesses with my expertise in business and management consultancy.