Team Cohesion in the Workplace

Whether we work, go to school, or play sports, we have all been a part of a team at some point. Some of these teams may have been fun, effective, and successful while others were stressful, ineffective, or taxing. While many teams work well together, true success comes from being on a cohesive team. Increased team cohesion in the workplace has resulted in increased success, work satisfaction, team member self-esteem, and decreased anxiety.

Team cohesion happens when a team remains united while working to achieve a common goal. Being a cohesive team means that not only are group goals met but everyone feels like they have contributed to the overall success of the group. Individuals on a cohesive team tend to focus more on the entire group rather than their individual selves and are more motivated to work towards the team goal.

So what does it take to make a team cohesive and how can team leaders help their team members succeed?

According to Bruce Tuckman, a well know researcher in group dynamics, there are four stages in team development that can be used to assess a team’s cohesiveness. These four stages are Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing. By understanding these stages, leaders and team members can understand why certain behaviors are happening and make informed changes.

The First Stage– Forming:

Forming is characterized by individuals of the group getting to know one another through comparisons and social assessments. When employees are new to a team or a new team is being built. Team members need time to adjust to their environment and understand who does what, what the boundaries are, and discover how the team functions overall. Team leaders can help team members during this phase by:

  1. Establishing clear objectives.
  2. Establishing both group and individual goals for each team member.
  3. Implementing team building activities to allow members to get to know one another.

The Second Stage – Storming:

Storming is generally characterized by conflict, generally due to the process of establishing roles. Team members may often experience emotional resistance and may show behaviors consistent with wanting to fulfill their individual goals rather than work as a team. Teammates may become defensive about the way things are done, or should be done, and managers may often experience push back. If your team is in this phase it is important to:

  1. Establish structures and procedures that are followed by all team members.
  2. Resolve conflict as it occurs; communication is key and it is important for individual team members and management to feel comfortable expressing themselves.
  3. Explain these stages to team members so they can have a better understanding of why conflict arises.

The Third Stage – Norming:

Norming marks the point where conflict begins to get resolved and is replaced with cooperation. Unity is established between the individuals, and members begin to unite their efforts and work together in their pursuit of a common goal. In this stage, group norms are established and members often feel comfortable giving one another feedback which helps increase trust. Once your team has reached this stage it is important to:

  1. Have consistent meetings to ensure that everyone is still working towards the same goal and adjust as needed.
  2. Allow team members autonomy to work towards their goals.
  3. Continue to implement team building activities both inside and outside of the workplace to keep communication open and active.

The Final, Fourth, and Most Exciting Stage – Performing:

In this final stage, teams are generally performing at an optimal level, meaning each person is concerned with team success rather than solely individual recognition. Each person feels like they have a purpose and that they are valued. In this stage, each person understands that their contributions are important and they should be willing to take risks – if they believe it will benefit the team. Teams who progress to the performing stage understand how beneficial teamwork is in attaining the goals they have set out to achieve. These teams possess a true sense of team cohesion. Once your teams have reached this stage it is important to:

  1. Celebrate your victories!
  2. Reforecast and target new goals, while continuing to have consistent meetings to ensure everyone is on the same page.
  3. Allow the team some room to make decisions – over controlling at this stage may cause teams to regress back to lower stages.

It is important to note that teams will fluctuate throughout these stages especially when new team members join and others leave.

Overall, team cohesion is important in the workplace as it leads to greater company success, improved employee satisfaction, and increased motivation. Team cohesion can be learned, although teams must treat the process organically. It is important to remember that communication is key, and roles must be defined clearly. A cohesive team can be small or large, and based locally or internationally. No matter what the team dynamic, all team members must have a clear understanding of their individual role, the team goal, and trust that each person is contributing.


Keri TenBoer

Keri is an Associate at Russell Tobin. She has a passion for recruiting and is responsible for connecting job seekers with exciting careers in the California Bay Area. Keri works with a variety of contract opportunities within the technology space including a few large social media companies.

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