Leading High Performance Cohesive Teams


“There is a desire in each of us to invest in things that matter, and to have the organizations in which we work be successful…Our task is to create organizations we believe in…to be part of creating something we care about so we can endure the sacrifice, risk, and adventure that commitment entails. That’s team work motivation.” – Peter Block

 A characteristic commonly seen in high-performance teams is cohesiveness, a measure of the attraction of the group to its members (and the resistance to leaving it).  How do you get people to work together, to collaborate, to manage tension without emotion, especially in a virtual environment?  

Often in business today, people are siloed and focused on their own objectives, losing sight of the overall purpose, direction, and goal of the team or company.   When they attend virtual staff meetings, they are not 'present' and unable or unwilling to practice active listening and full participation.  They often are not responsible for their promised outcomes or objectives.  They are active on their mobile devices during meetings and at other times during the workday, and don't contribute at a level necessary for productive growth.  Their peers are also impacted due to a loss of focus on team productivity focus.  Leading a team in today's business environment can be challenging.  
Here are some questions I ask when working with clients struggling with these issues:

  • How does a manager get people to work together without a lot of drama? 

  • How do they conduct staff meetings or 1:1 meetings with their direct reports?  

  • How do they find and continuously develop talent?  

  • How do they foster a culture of responsiveness, innovation, and value creation?  

  • How can they get their people to better align with their vision of the company?

  • How do they manage their people and get them to be more focused on results that drive enterprise value? 

Here is what I think…

Leadership takes courage, devotion, and passion.  People don’t follow titles, they follow courage, and leaders who demand excellence will win.  Organizations are limited by their leaders, and your education, character, capacity, ability and vision define what John Maxwell describes in his classic book (21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership) as the ‘leadership lid’.  

Leaders don't really lead people, they set the vision and manage processes.  As leaders, our people will decide whether or not to follow us.  Our people will determine if we are a leader. Our people are perfectly capable of managing themselves and, if not, they need to be reassigned their job, or set free to work elsewhere. Our job as leaders is to articulate a strong vision; engage the available talent who design and perfect processes; execute on the strategy; measure outcomes vs. plan; search for ways to improve the processes, and train people to be accountable to those processes.  Most of the time this involves team interaction. 
Creating a highly functional cohesive team is the number one job of the CEO.  In a team environment, each team member must be aware of what they are doing individually, and what contribution they are making.  They must also hold each of the other team members accountable to their respective roles and progress towards objectives.  This takes a high level of trust, and willingness to be bold in providing honest objective feedback, and to deal with conflict and tension that inevitably arises when debating important topics and initiatives.
Assembling and managing collaborative cohesive teams in today's virtual and distributed workforce is a growing and real challenge for leaders.  Natural work teams coming together in person with a pre-set rhythm is more effective than meeting virtually on a video or voice call.  Staying in physical contact or being in close proximity to our teammates promotes discussion, camaraderie, esprit de corps, and progress which simply disappears in a virtual environment.   

Want more detail? Check out the resources below:

ARTICLE: Understanding Team Cohesiveness.  Daniela Molnau. Six Sigma. [15 min read] 

The author describes 4 stages of team development, from a theory advanced by researcher Bruce Tuckman:  forming, storming, performing, and norming.  Highly cohesive teams focus on the process, not the person; they respect everyone on the team, assuming good motives; and they fully commit to team decisions and strategies, creating accountability within the team. Morale is also higher in cohesive teams because of increased team member communication, friendly team environment, loyalty and team member contribution in the decision-making process.  Daft, R., & Marcic, D. (2009)
High performance teams are what make companies successful.  In order for strategy to be imagined and deployed, a cohesive team must be in place to do the work.  Such teams achieve higher levels of performance because their members trust one another, share a strong sense of team identity, and have confidence in their abilities and effectiveness.
Recognizing the team has a level of collective Emotional Intelligence (EI).  Research from organizational behavior experts Vanessa Druskat and Steven B. Wolff suggests following three practices to build your team’s EI:

1. Make time for team members to appreciate each other’s skills.
2. Raise and manage emotional concerns that can help or encumber the team’s progress.
3. Celebrate success.
VIDEO: The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team.  Patrick Lencioni. [2:28 min.] 

If we can get our people working together, focused on doing everything well, we would have fewer issues to deal with, less entropy, and a happier more fulfilled workforce with delighted customers.  Teamwork is the greatest competitive advantage that any group can have.  Building a highly functional cohesive team is a fundamental strategic decision we have to make as managers or leaders.  It takes courage, sacrifice, and personal investment to make this work properly, and it is often not easy to accomplish.  While you lead the team, you have an opportunity to impact the lives of the team members in a way that is much greater than anything you do in your life's work.  In fact, it may become the biggest and most altruistic thing you ever do in your life.

BOOK: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.  Patrick Lencioni. 

In this classic work, Patrick Lencioni describes the challenges to the team that present themselves when different personalities are operating in the same team environment.  

With the stress of a new product release, even the eventual success or failure of the company at risk and looming in the near future, Lencioni takes his readers through a sequential process of optimizing team function.  Briefly, his model first establishes the importance of building trust amongst team members.  Once trust is established, the team can begin to deal with the inevitable conflicts that arise in working together.  If the team members can overcome the reluctance to deal with constructive conflict without emotion and drama, they become committed to each other, and hold themselves and each other accountable to the objectives, initiatives, and priorities they have set for themselves.  Sometimes this activity results in team members having to leave the team, or the company, because they are uncomfortable with giving and receiving feedback in a group environment.  But after the right members are in place and functioning well together, the team achieves an outstanding result, and the company continues at a much higher level of performance.  

A self-inquiry question to consider:

  • What is your company doing to ensure world-class team performance?

And finally, I'll leave you with a quote:

“The ability to establish, grow, extend, and restore trust with all stakeholders – customers, business partners, investors, and coworkers – is the key leadership competency of the new, global economy.” —Stephen M. R. Covey