Team Cohesion: The Glue That Sticks


If you want a team that sticks together through thick and thin, then you need to work on the key elements of team cohesion.

1. Team Type. There are three different types of workplace team, each with varying ways in which they bring members together:

  • formal teams are likely to use rules, procedures and systems to formalise team contact.
  • ad-hoc teams, such as project teams, are likely to use the special purpose for which they exist as a way of bringing the team together.
  • informal teams are the network of friends, colleagues, mentors and role models who we turn to for support when we need it.

If you want strong formal teams, aim to incorporate all the best features of ad-hoc and informal teams.

2. Team Size. There is no definitive view about the size of an ideal workplace team, except that, for decision-taking, a team is best with an odd number.

Lyndall Urwick believed that 6 was the most a supervisor should be responsible for. Researcher Meredith Belbin argued that, to encompass all the necessary team roles, it should be 8 or 9. The Japanese believe a team leader should be able to handle any number between 30 and 100. When teams become too large, they become more difficult to manage, less united in purpose and less flexible in their ability to change.

3. Team Structure. A team is likely to be more cohesive when its structure favours close contact. Sundstrom’s research in the 1960’s found that, if the structure of a team allows for close working, as, for example, it does in a physically-close group, then it produces better work than if the structure is loose and there is less contact. This research led to fundamental changes in the way factory assembly line work was organised in the 1950’s and 60’s. Organisations such as car-makers Volvo adopted these ideas and still make cars in largely autonomous teams.

4. Team Affinity. Teams whose members like one another are likely to be more cohesive than those where there is personal disliking, ignorance of others or indifference. Affinity is aided by:

  • work flows which bring people into frequent contact
  • democratic styles of leadership
  • a common bond which the team recognises
  • shared interests
  • training together whether on technical subjects or on team-building exercises.

Many Japanese firms make it a standard practice to start all their new recruits on the same day. In this way they form themselves into a team from day one, building an affinity which can reap benefits in years to come.

5. Team Bonds. Teams whose members have something in common are more cohesive than those where people have little in common. The common bond could be age, gender, status, experience, outside interests, qualifications, education or ambitions. A study of 31 top 500 Fortune companies in the United States found that there was a higher level of turnover when management teams had a high variation in age, service and tenure.

Let’s leave the last word to Lucy and Linus:

Lucy to Linus (who is happily watching a TV show): Change the channel!
Linus: Do what?
Linus: What makes you think I should just respond like that?
Lucy: (showing her hand) You see this? These are just 5 weak little fingers. But when they are rolled together into something called a fist they become a weapon formidable to behold.
Linus: (after contemplating Lucy’s fist, changing the channel and then looking at his own little fingers) Why can’t you guys get organized like that?

Cohesive teams are those where individuals lose their differences for the sake of a common goal and a common way of working together. When you work on each of the above 5 elements, the effect can be electric.

About the Author

Eric Garner is the founder of ManageTrainLearn a useful training resource for managers. Article © Eric Garner,

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