Team cohesion: What does it really mean? Where does it come from? How do we build it? How do we keep it over time in an ever-changing environment?
I should perhaps address the basic question: What is a team? A team is a group of individuals (players) working together to reach a common goal. This sounds simple, but in fact “goals” are understood differently from one player to another. Even if a coach provides a clear goal, if he doesn’t evaluate what the goal means for each player, it is likely the goal will only be clear to the coach.
If the goal is to win a game, shouldn’t this goal be clear enough for every player? In fact, it’s not as easy as it may seem. Every player has an idea of “how” he should behave to reach the goal. Thus, for one player it may be to stay serious and focused in the hours preceding the game. For another player it may be to make jokes and laugh in order to get rid of the pressure. So, you get a bunch of different behaviours. Teammates interact with each other according to their own individual behaviours and they will inevitably develop an opinion about the ability of their other teammates to succeed based on their own opinion of what it takes to succeed. Thus, the player who believes in taking the time to concentrate before the game may see the player making jokes as an idiot who doesn’t see the importance of what is at stake.
How a player perceives his teammates and how his teammates perceive him determine team cohesion. This perception among the team leaves strong impressions in the minds of the players and the coach, but, sadly, how a player behaves is too often perceived as his actual ability and a reflection of his determination to achieve the team’s goal.
If you want team cohesion, leaving behind your judgments and impressions is of utmost importance, because every player will try to achieve the goal with his own knowledge and personality. If you judge a player on his personality, you will destroy team cohesion. If you want team cohesion, don’t judge a player on his personality, judge him on the results. Why ask a player to change his personality if he has good results? No reason at all. Why ask a player to change his personality if he has bad results? If you don’t like his jokes, forget about it. He doesn’t have bad results because he makes jokes before the game. There’s another reason for it, so find it. Don’t be blinded by your impressions. See behind the curtain.
Some behaviours obviously impede performance: drinking alcohol before a game, partying until 3:00 a.m., etc. We all know these kinds of behaviours will lead to failure. You know those are not the kinds of behaviours I’m taking about.
If you want your team to bond together, show a little bit of maturity and don’t judge on personality. Judge on results, then you’ll make more efficient comments that will lead to success and you won’t destroy team cohesion.
Sounds simple, but it’s one of the hardest things to achieve. Work on it and you’ll see.
Hostility is the consequence of judgment; success is the consequence of team cohesion.
Dr. Denis Boucher holds a Ph.D. degree in experimental medicine. He manages an exercise physiology laboratory in Quebec and a human performance consulting company in the United States. He has conducted the pre-season on-ice fitness evaluation program for the Philadelphia Flyers. His clinical expertise is in the fields of exercise physiology, nutrition and sport performance. He currently hosts and produces a weekly radio show on XM172 entitled ‘The Little Scientific World of Doc Boucher’ (in French). He will blog for THN.com throughout the season.