Learning Resource

Creating and Maintaining Team Cohesion

Team Cohesion Defined

One definition of cohesion is “a group property with individual manifestations of feelings of belongingness or attraction to the group” (Lieberman et al., 1973: 337). It is generally accepted that group cohesion and performance are associated. “However, the issue of a cause/effect relationship between group cohesion and performance is not completely resolved. Generally, there tend to be more studies supporting a positive relationship between group cohesion and performance.” [1] With that in mind the following article is an effort to enhance group/team cohesion and as a result help improve group/team performance

The Question

What is team cohesiveness and why does it matter to an organization to have cohesiveness within its teams?

Team Composition

How to Promote Team Cohesion When Selecting and Identifying Diversity Within Teams

In their journal article "Beyond Relational Demography: Time and the Effects of Surface- and Deep-Level Diversity on Work Group Cohesion," David A. Harrison, Kenneth H. Price, and Myrtle P. Bell discuss the composition of teams and its effect on cohesiveness. They describe two different categories of diversity, namely surface level and deeper level.

Surface-Level Diversity

Surface level attributes are “immutable [and] almost immediately observable.” [2] Such attributes include age, sex, and race/ethnicity. In general, the findings have been fairly inconsistent within and across studies as to how diversity in these areas affect team cohesion

Deep-Level Diversity

Deep-level diversity includes differences among members’ attitudes, beliefs, and values. These attributes are less apparent than surface-level differences and are “learned through extended, individualized interaction and information gathering.” [3] They are communicated differences which are shared through both verbal and nonverbal behavior. There has been less research done in this area with regards to teams in workplace settings, though a number of social psychological studies have been conducted. The findings consistently suggest that “attitudinal similarity [is] associated with higher group cohesiveness.” [4] Diversity also improves communication, reduces personal conflict, attracts friendships, and gives more satisfaction to group members.


Overall, the school of thought that is most widely accepted, in regards to team cohesion, is that “surface-level differences are less important and deep-level differences are more important for groups that had interacted more often” [5]. Harrison, Price, and Bell’s study concluded that while homogeneous groups interacted and performed more effectively than heterogeneous groups in the beginning, with time and information, the diverse groups’ performance and processes improved more rapidly and “had grown more effective in identifying problems and generating solutions” [6]. Overall cohesiveness was strengthened in such cases. Hence, for optimum results, teams ought to include deep-level diversity as part of the process for achieving cohesiveness.

Internal Environment Factors Needed in Team Cohesion

Internally there are several factors that must be present for cohesion to exist within a team. First good and appropriate communication is essential to creating and maintaining cohesion. Communication leads to the second factor, unity of purpose. For a team to work as a cohesive team they must share a common goal and to collectively work towards that goal. And finally, the team must have a high level of commitment understanding that what they do together as a team is better than what they do on their own.


In the article “Building Team Cohesion: Becoming 'We' Instead of 'Me'” the authors stress the importance of not losing the “human moment” which they define as “not to lose the powerful impact of face-to-face, immediate interaction in real time and space.” Furthermore, the authors add the following:

“It is communication in the “human moment” that most powerfully creates team synergy – the energy that truly makes “the whole greater than the sum of its parts.” It is communication in the “human moment” that also most powerfully creates team cohesion – a strong sense of loyalty and commitment to the team vision as one’s own.”

“Providing communication opportunities in real time and space for forensics team members is necessary to build team cohesion. Whether a room or lounge where team members can congregate between classes and the end of the day, practice space for formal and informal coaching sessions, travel time in cars and vans, or social time to enjoy pizza and a movie, both quantity and quality of communication are necessary to build a cohesive team climate of openness and trust…According to Bormann(1990), highly cohesive groups interact in an open climate where individuals are free to ask questions and disagree with one another; even the ability to work through inevitable team conflict in such a constructive climate will only serve to strengthen team cohesion.”

In order to build cohesion within any team whether it be a sports team or work team communication is an essential ingredient. Providing opportunities for the team members to interact socially is necessary to help build trust. In addition, a safe environment in which the team can deal with conflict is critical to team cohesion.

Unity of Purpose or a Common Goal

A critical factor that must be present for groups or teams to experience cohesion is to have a common goal. In SELF-MANAGING WORK TEAMS:An Empirical Study of Group Cohesiveness in “Natural Work Groups” at a Harley-Davidson Motor Company Plant, the authors state: “that highly cohesive groups tend to perform better because they have high commitment to attaining group goals (e.g., Stogdill, 1972), and because the members are more sensitive to others in the group, they are more willing to assist each other (e.g., Schachter, Ellertson, McBride,&Gregory, 1951).

Additional support to the importance of a common goal in building and maintaining a common goal is found in “Buliding Team Cohesion: Becoming “We” Instead of “Me” where the author relates the following:

“Since cohesion is believed to be one of the distinguishing characteristics of a high-performance team, what is this powerful team quality and how is it cre-ated? According to Bollen and Hoyle (1979), cohesion is the degree of attraction members feel toward one another and the team; "it is a feeling of deep loyalty, of esprit de corps, the degree to which each individual has made the team's goal his or her own, a sense of belonging, and a feeling of morale" (as cited in Beebe & Masterson, 2000, p. 122). Though cohesion is rooted in the feelings team mem-bers have for one another as well as a common goal, creating, shaping, and strengthening those feelings relies on the use of effective communication. Communication scholars have long agreed that group or team cohesion is as much about the relationships created as the task at hand, and success in both fos-ters the development of team cohesion. (Bormann, 1990).

Without a purpose or a common goal a team will eventually splinter into separate individuals working towards their own personal agendas and not together toward a team goal. It is important for team members to see themselves as a part of the group working towards a goal for cohesiveness to exist.


Teams that are not committed to each other or a common goal do not experience cohesion and are much more like to leave the team or even the organization. In the article "Commitment and the Control of Organizational Behavior and Belief" the author states the following:

"Commitment also derives from the relation of an employee's job to those of other in the organization. Some jobs are rather isolated and can be done independently of other jobs in the organization. It has been found that jobs which are not integrated with the work activities of others tend to be associated with less favorable attitudes. (Sheperd, 1973). Gow, Clarkand dossett (1974), for instance find that telephone operators who quit tend to be those who are not integrated into the work group. Work integration can affect commitment by the fact that integrated jobs are likely to be associated with salient demands from others in the organization. If a person has a job which affects the work of others in the organization, it is likely that those other will communicate their expectations for performance of that job. Such expectations can be committing in that the other people implicitly or explicitly hold the person accountable for what he does. Earlier we mentioned that when individuals did not know what was expected of them they tended to be less committed to the organization. One reason an individual will not know what is expected is because no one is telling him. In general, we would expect that anything which contributes to creating definite expectations for a person's behavior would enhance his felt responsibility, and hence commitment."

We learn from the above author that for commitment to exist we employees need to know what is expected of them and then to know they will be held accountable either by a manager or other co-workers. Once commitment is present team members are more likely to stay and work towards the team goal.

Role of Management in Team Cohesion

The roles that management has in a team that they oversee are extremely important. But it is also important for the management to understand the boundaries of what their roles and responsibilities are and what the roles and responsibilities of the team itself are. The manager is often placed in the management position because of their people and technical skills and experience. A team often benefits from the manager’s abilities, skills, aptitudes, insights and ideas. But neither the management nor the team should ever forget that it is the team’s responsibility to perform the actual work. So what role should management play in a team that they oversee? How best can they serve the team to ensure they are successful? A critical role that management can and should have is to facilitate and encourage team cohesion.

Establish the Team Vision/Goal

The first step in creating team cohesion and where management should be involved is in the establishment of the team vision and/or goal. Management must set a clear vision to which the team can jointly work towards together. As Tommy Lasorda, former manager of the LA Dodgers, stated, “My responsibility is to get my 25 guys playing for the name on the front of their shirt and not the one on the back.”[7] Management must “establish a common goal for [the] team – an underlying target that will bind [them] together…”[8] The goal must be as clear as possible for each member of the team. “Goal clarity is critical for team members to have confidence in their direction and to be committed to make it happen.”[9] A clearly defined goal articulated to the team in such a way that they all understand will inspire the team and commit them to the cause.

Once the goal has been clearly defined and clearly articulated, management must keep the vision and goal alive. Obstacles, tension, and crises may arise that can distract or discourage away from the common goal. The management must “continually reinforce and renew the team goal.”[10]

Being that managements “primary responsibility is to ensure that the team reaches its goal,”[11] management must also facilitate a working environment, set clear expectations and responsibilities, and lastly, let the team do their job.

Facilitate a Working Environment

Once the team vision and goal has been established, the most important contribution management can make “is to ensure a climate that enables team members to speak up and address the real issues preventing the goal from being achieved.”[12] Such a climate includes creating an environment of trust, communication and openness with each other. As Frank Lafasto describes in his book, openness and supportiveness are “the ability to raise and resolve the real issues standing the way of a team accomplishing its goal. And to do so in a way that brings out the best thinking and attitude of everyone involved. It’s too hard for team members to contribute, much less explore the possibilities, when it is not safe for them to say what’s on their minds. They must be able to speak honestly. They must be able to deal openly with real obstacles, problems, and opportunities in a way that promotes listening, understanding of differing perspectives, and constructively working towards a solution.”[13] The environment and climate in which the team works and operates must be facilitated by the management to ensure that trust is established, collective collaboration is demanded, and openness is welcome.

Set Clear Expectations and Responsibilities

Management responsibility is also to set clear expectations and responsibilities of the team and individual team members. Patrick Lencioni describes in his book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” that a team where there is ambiguity about the direction and priorities fails to commit. Whereas when the expectations, direction and priorities are clear the team is more likely to commit to the cause and each other.[14] Management must establish clear expectations so there is no ambiguity or question of what is expected of the team, whether it is the timeline, product, requirements, etc.

Also, management must set clear responsibilities. “There are few behaviors that build confidence as well as personalized expression of belief in an individual. One of the most direct signals of such belief is trusting someone with important and meaningful responsibility.”[15] Clear and meaningful responsibility that allows the team members to stretch enhances their trust and confidence. And, as Jack Welch, the CEO of General Electric, put it, “giving people self-confidence is by far the most important thing I can do. Because then they will act.”[16]

Training and Staffing

According to Chansler, Swamidass, & Cammann to get a task completed, “a work team must have the resources to do the job. Specifically, the team needs trained, competent team members. Training is a planned effort by a firm to help employees learn job-related competencies (Noe, 1999). Training is used by companies to gain a competitive advantage over rivals in their respective industries. A company must provide adequate resources to an empowered team to staff and train its members adequately.” It is the responsibility of Management to provide such training. Chansler, Swamidass, & Cammann also suggest management should provide its workers with both “hard” and “soft” skills. “Hard-skills training helps them do their jobs properly so that the plant can produce a quality product cost-effectively. Soft-skills training, on the other hand, teaches the workers to get along better as part of a functioning team; this type of skills training improves interpersonal dynamics and relationships. To effectively and efficiently manufacture quality product, both types of training are needed.” [17] It is therefore the responsibility of management to make sure that group/ team members have the hard and soft skills to perform tasks and maintain cohesion.

Get Out of Their Way

And lastly, the manager’s role is to get out of the team’s way. Once the team knows what they are working towards, tasks have been clearly defined and delegated, expectations are clearly set and they have the means to build relationships of trust and have open communication, the manager needs to step back and let the team work. The last thing the team needs, not only to reach their goal, but also to build strong cohesion is, as Dr. Travis Bradberry described, a seagull manager; one that swoops in when problems arise “squawking and dumpling advice, only to take off and let others clean up the mess.”[18] Management needs to let the members in the team be smart and informed about key issues and facts related to their tasks and goal. Then management must trust team members by providing sufficient autonomy, which will in turn build confidence.


Ultimately, the goal and role of management should be to add value to the team’s effort. This can be done by defining a clear vision and goal, facilitate a working environment, set clear expectations and responsibilities, and provide the team enough autonomy where they can work and do their jobs with full commitment and confidence.

Examples of Team Cohesion: The Good

A good example of team Cohesion is that of the Harley Davidson Motor Company (HDMC) and its group structure. The well known turnaround of HDMC occurred in the 1980s when it changed from a “command-and-control” culture to that of self-managing work teams (SMWT). This change allowed assembly employees to make important decisions in their work teams [19]. With group work as the foundation of HDMC’s manufacturing cohesion among group members was essential.

At its Kansas City Plant HDMC natural work groups (NWG) were organized to make decisions (and build motorcycles). The plant’s employees are made up of local union members. “This partnership allows the shifting of the decision-making and financial responsibilities for the operation of the plant to the assembly floor employees” [20].

The structure of the plant divides workers into NWGs. Each NWG is either assigned to one of four process operations groups (POG) (the Assembly POG, the Fabrication POG, the Paint POG, or a POG dedicated to future programs) or provides “computer, human resources, materials, and so forth, support for the operations NWGs (denoted as RG or Resource Groups). Each of the NWGs is represented by NWG-elected (on a rotating basis) members. The highest level of the circular organization is the lone plant leadership group (PLG), which is cochaired by the plant manager and two local union presidents” [21].

Within this group structure HDMC provides for widespread access to information. “All financial and operations information is available to all team members, which allows them to monitor budgets and production quotas” [22]. This access to information facilitates open communication which in turn leads to greater team cohesion. Cohesion is also furthered by the autonomy of workers within the group. “Each NWG is empowered to make decisions with regard to any aspect of the assembly process as long as it does not cross over its boundary and impede another NWG” [23]. With freedom to make any necessary decisions and freedom from continuous managerial intervention NWGs are free to bend and move as needed in response to any given situation.

Interestingly in this structure there are no formal team leaders. “NWGs are collectively led by the members of the group. Traditional leadership duties such as scheduling, safety monitoring, budget balancing, and so forth, are rotated among the NWG members on a regular basis (usually monthly). The NWG controls its own budget, sick pay, overtime, and consumable production materials. Individual performance measures are not maintained. The NWG performance is measured on achievement of plant goals and on the goals that they set for themselves” [24]. This sharing of responsibilities fosters cohesion by aligning the goals of the group, goals each member is included in creating.

Examples of Team Cohesion: The Bad

The 2010 film “The Social Network” is based on the events and circumstances that lead to the creation and founding of the social networking website “Facebook.” Founder Mark Zuckerberg and his friend, co-founder Eduardo Saverin agree to launch the site and split up ownership of the new company equitably. In the process of developing the company, other individuals and interests come into play that are detrimental to the team cohesion developed by Mark and Eduardo eventually leading to multi-million dollar lawsuits and the end of the original founding team.

Several factors that lead to the failure of team cohesion:

Team members were unable to work together cooperatively

Team goals were not shared by everyone on the team

Team members felt that they were not recognized for individual contributions to accomplish team goals

Selfish interests were able to infiltrate the team cohesion

The fact that team members were unable to work cooperatively together is likely the single biggest factor in the failure of the original “Facebook” leadership team. In the movie, to help advance the growth of the company, Mark brought in a third partner, Sean Parker, the co-founder of the famous music sharing sight “Napster.” Mark was instantly drawn to Sean’s charismatic personality and vision for “Facebook.” At the same time, Eduardo was highly skeptical of Sean and his business history. Immediately Mark began to lean toward the ideas that Sean had developed for “Facebook” and eventually gave Sean a small ownership stake in the company as well as a management position. Upon learning this, Eduardo was very upset that Mark would go ahead and make the decision to include Sean without consulting him first.

Mark and Eduardo both had visions of keeping this site exclusive for the elite college institutions around the country and gradually introducing it to other colleges. When Sean was brought into the company he presented Mark with a business plan to expand “Facebook” beyond the college scene and introduce it to the general public. At the same time he was trying to convince Mark that he needed to relocate the business to Palo Alto, CA from Boston, MA. Eduardo was never consulted on these propositions that were made to Mark. Eduardo felt like Sean was trying to push him out of the company and influence many of the decisions made by Mark. As the company grew and others were able to influence decision making, the team goals had clearly changed and not everyone shared the same vision.

When “Facebook” was originally started Eduardo was designated as the CFO of the company. In this responsibility he put up the initial seed money to get it off the ground. He was in charge of all finances and bank accounts for the company. While Mark was moving the company headquarters to Palo Alto, Eduardo was spending time in New York working on securing advertising contracts with prominent advertising firms. When Eduardo goes to visit the team in Palo Alto he begins to tell Mark all about the progress he has made with the advertisers but instead he is told all about the work that Sean and Mark had accomplished and is essentially told that his time and work in New York will not be needed. Eduardo felt like his contributions to the company and goals were not being recognized. This drives Eduardo further and further from the team.

Throughout the life of the original leadership team there were many occasions where selfish interests were able to infiltrate team cohesion. Sean was the worst offender of this. Sean was one of the founders of “Napster.” “Napster” was eventually forced to shut down and was facing many lawsuits from the record industry. Sean saw an opportunity to work with Mark and Eduardo on “Facebook.” Sean could see the potential that this venture had and also that he could influence the socially introverted Mark by filling him with visions of big pay days and a life style full of privilege. At times he appeared to try and relive his days of “Napster” and treated “Facebook” like it was his own company and he was trying to accomplish the goals there that weren’t achievable at “Napster.” After a party to celebrate the 1 millionth member of “Facebook,” Sean was arrested with several other “Facebook” interns for possession of cocaine and was eventually dismissed from the company. Through these actions, Sean clearly was acting in his own self interest and did not take into account what the effects would be on the group or company. In many ways the selfish actions of Sean drove a wedge between Mark and Eduardo that eventually lead to lawsuits and the end of the original leadership team. [25]


Ways to Increase Team Cohesion

Each group environment is different and will present different challenges. In order to create a cohesive team unit it is important for team members to be aware of this and work towards it. In Joseph Powell Stokes’s research, he found that “risk taking that occurs in a group, attraction to individual members of the group, and the instrumental value of a group are all related to the cohesion of the group”. He proposes that “increasing risk taking, intermember attraction, and the instrumental value of a personal change group might lead to increased cohesion, which in turn might lead to increase benefits for group participants.” [26]

Each group environment is different and will present different challenges. In order to create a cohesive team unit it is important for team members to be aware of this and work towards it. In Joseph Powell Stokes’s research, he found that “risk taking that occurs in a group, attraction to individual members of the group, and the instrumental value of a group are all related to the cohesion of the group”. He proposes that “increasing risk taking, intermember attraction, and the instrumental value of a personal change group might lead to increased cohesion, which in turn might lead to increase benefits for group participants.” [26]

Potential problems

One possible caveat of cohesion is that when there is too much cohesion, groups are prone to groupthink. “Groupthink is a tendency by groups to engage in a concurrence seeking manner. Groupthink occurs when group members give priority to sustaining concordance and internal harmony above critical examination of the issues under consideration”. [28] It is important for all group members to be conscious of this pitfall and to take precautions to prevent such behavior.


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LaFasto, F., & Larson, C. (2001). When Teams Work Best. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

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Bradberry, T. (2008). Squaqk.. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

The Social Network. (2010, 11 21) . Retrieved 11 21, 2010, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Social_Network.

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Managing Groups and Teams/Groupthink. (2010, March 23). Retrieved 11 15, 2010, from Wikibooks: http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Managing_Groups_and_Teams/Groupthink.

Licenses and Attributions

2. Creating and Maintaining Team Cohesion from Managing Groups and Teams is available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license. UMGC has modified this work and it is available under the original license.