The benefits of remote work are hard to ignore — increased flexibility, the chance to work with people across the globe, the privilege of wearing pajamas to work (at least from the waist down). Still, it’s fair to wonder whether a lack of in-person interactions takes a toll on a team’s ability to work as a unit.
Defining Team Cohesion
There are many different definitions of team cohesion. Here are a few:
- According to CQ Net, “Team cohesion occurs when the members engage in collective work and demonstrate mutual commitment to challenging goals in order to reach an overarching purpose.”
- Experts from Michigan State University write, “When employees are in a cohesive work environment, they focus more on the group goals than their individual success, becoming motivated by the team’s efforts.”
- The Corporate Finance Institute defines team cohesion as, “the strength and extent of interpersonal connection existing among the members of a group.”
Despite their variations, each definition highlights the importance of individuals working together to achieve common goals. With that in mind, we can conclude that, for teams to work cohesively, each individual must understand their common goals. And a team cannot fully grasp and pursue its goals when it does not know its purpose.
Cohesion Requires Purpose
Even if your team meets in the office every day, even if everyone gets along well, teams are not truly cohesive if they do not have a collective understanding of their purpose.
Given that new tech and business trends are constantly reshaping what organizations do, there may be a lot of smiling and nodding without a clear understanding of shared purpose. Here are some ways leaders can build connective tissue among their teams:
- Find ways to remind your team of their purpose every day. Integrate it into all communication — in email sign-offs, in meetings, on LinkedIn.
- Know your company’s story. And know how to tell it to your team. Storytelling is an incredibly powerful way to get people emotionally invested in your company’s purpose.
- Empower your team to own their purpose. Teams work cohesively when each member has a clear understanding of their individual role. Remind your employees why they are an asset to the team.
Cohesion Requires Clear Expectations
Purpose is not the only thing leaders need to communicate clearly to their team; research suggests that teams perform better when they are cohesive, but only when there is a clear understanding of the task.
To deliver this clarity, practice the following:
- Over-communicate. Never assume your team is picking up what you’re putting down by repeating and paraphrasing yourself to make the message sticky.
- Give consistent feedback. From a manager’s perspective, not commenting on an employee’s work probably means the work is fine. But it can also leave the employee feeling a bit rudderless. Create a feedback culture by normalizing feedback in both directions — from leaders to team members and the other way around.
- Establish psychological safety. When an employee doesn’t understand something, they might avoid asking a question for fear of looking bad in front of their boss. Make a habit of reminding your team that questions of any kind, at any time, are welcome and encouraged.
Cohesion Requires Shared Values
The final ingredient of team cohesion is shared values — the fundamental beliefs and guiding principles behind everything the company does. Values are more than posters around a company’s headquarters; they must be lived every day.
When considering your team’s shared values and how they can boost team cohesion, consider the following:
- Don’t mistake shared values for the absence of differing opinions. Disagreement is necessary for innovation and can fuel collaboration.
- Have open discussions about shared values. Team members are more likely to embrace team values when they have a say in them. Encourage individuals to share what values are important to them, especially in relation to working on a team.
- Don’t let values fall to the wayside. Just as leaders remind their teams of shared purpose, they must model the company’s shared values consistently.
If your team feels splintered, it could be a function of how they’re working more than where they’re working.