The saying, “There’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’” is so deeply ingrained in corporate culture that it has almost become cliche. And yet, the challenge of cultivating true teamwork and collaboration is as persistent as ever.
Unfortunately, too many organizations still struggle because they believe that successful outcomes rest on the shoulders of a few individual “I’s” rather than the whole team. It’s possible to reach significant goals working this way, just like it’s possible for a haphazard rowing crew to reach its destination.
But as Daniel Coyle shares in Culture Code, teams that learn to row together achieve so much more.
Why Cohesion Matters
Even if you’ve never set foot on a crew boat, you can probably imagine that twenty oar strokes hitting the water in tandem create far more power than twenty individual strokes – regardless of the strength of each rower.
That’s because cohesion creates synergy: the phenomenon that happens when individuals combine and coordinate their actions to produce a result that’s more powerful than the sum of any one person’s contributions. Cohesive teams accomplish more together than any individual could shoulder alone.
In Culture Code, Croyle shares two consistent hallmarks of cohesive teams: vulnerability and trust; and effective communication.
Vulnerability and Trust
Members of cohesive teams understand and respect each other’s unique limitations and see vulnerability as a strength. When individuals feel safe enough to show up as their authentic selves, they develop the trust necessary to support each other through difficult moments.
For example, if someone on the rowing crew pulls a muscle, she doesn’t need to grin and bear it. Instead, the other team members will rally to pick up her slack, trusting that she’ll do the same for them in the future.
The interpersonal relationships that grow from such vulnerability and support hold teams together like glue and keep the momentum strong, even in choppy waters.
To row together, team members need to stay attuned to each other. That requires consistent, honest, and respectful communication. For example, if the boat is veering off course or there’s an obstacle up ahead, rowers at the back count on leaders in the front to speak up so they can anticipate problems and stay in sync.
Effective communication allows teams to course-correct quickly when necessary, accommodate changing dynamics, and take challenges in stride.
Cultivating Cohesion and Synergy
Leaders can cultivate more cohesive teams by intentionally fostering vulnerability, trust, and more effective communication:
Lead by Example
Vulnerability can feel, well, vulnerable! However, team members will likely open up if you do it first. Be candid about your challenges and uncertainties, and ask for help when needed. As team members learn to trust you and each other, vulnerability becomes less scary.
Remember that modeling vulnerability is not a license to air dirty laundry or overshare. Instead, it's an opportunity to bring your whole self to the job so that your team members see you as a human rather than just "the boss."
Embrace Team Bonding Exercises
Team bonding exercises often earn eye-rolls, but they can be highly effective in building trust and shared experiences. This non-working time can also strengthen interpersonal bonds among employees, reveal new strengths and limitations, and open lines of communication.
Through regular offsites, icebreakers, and group coaching sessions, colleagues learn to see each other as multi-dimensional human beings (instead of just coworkers). In addition, as individuals learn about each other’s interests, families, backgrounds, hobbies, personalities, and experiences outside work, they gain empathy for each other that carries back to the workplace.
Leave Room for Discussion
Encourage regular communication and honest feedback by creating forums for discussion and conversation. Such opportunities might look like fifteen minutes at the end of your weekly team meeting, virtual office hours, or a monthly round-table. Ask open-ended questions that get team members talking about relevant challenges and team dynamics.
Building cohesion is a process. But the synergy it creates is worth the effort. Learning to row together as a team is one of the best ways to improve productivity and strengthen employee relationships. If this article prompted an “ah hah” moment for you about cohesion, share it with us on Twitter using #CultureCode.