Strong teamwork, cohesion, and a sense of satisfaction come from achieving great things together

Posted: November 18, 2013 in Leadership
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Last week I was involved a discussion about how to build strong teamwork and cohesion. Some of my interlocutors were convinced that adventurous activities for groups of employees are a good way to achieve this end. I don’t deny that doing things that are physically demanding or even a bit risky can be a good way to build trust and esprit de corps–in the right circumstances. However, I’m skeptical that the lessons learned can be transferred to other domains as readily as is believed.

In simple terms, going sailing or walking on hot coals are fun, but they don’t transfer to working together effectively as a team in the normal work environment. There is a widespread belief that doing such risky and adventurous things together is what solidifies a military unit or other types of organizations, such as police and fire fighters. But the reason those activities work for military and paramilitary organizations is that they have to be able to do difficult, risky individual and collective tasks; the ability carry out the mission in military and paramilitary teams is predicated at least in part on accomplishing those tasks.

We can’t say the same in a normal business setting. Yes, teamwork and cohesion are required, but they are based on different individual and collective tasks. In a nutshell, just because you can act brave in a temporary and highly contrived “outward bound” type of exercise doesn’t mean you can achieve the same results in a sales situation, or work effectively with others in a marketing brainstorming session.

If you want to build solid teamwork, morale, cohesion, and unity of purpose in a business environment, you have to do so on the basis of tasks and functions that are key to success in that environment. You have to also work together and succeed together in collective endeavours that are vital to the success and thriving of the business. Pulling on a rope together might work well as a metaphor for teamwork, but nothing surpasses actually beating your real business competition or achieving great things together as a well oiled unit.

Richard Martin is a consultant, speaker, and executive coach. He brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to exploit change, maximize opportunity, and minimize risk.

© 2013 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.

  1. Dave Banks says:

    Richard: Another good post.

    Your comments on “team building” are spot on. I equate the misplaced faith in these events to that placed by some people in the “boot camp” approach for dealing with young offenders. The reason these things work in the military (and they don’t always work 100%) is because they occur inside a highly structured and focused culture that then reinforces the outcomes of these activities, or punishes their failures (usually…). Running around in a swamp for a day won’t fix a corporate team that has bad organization, a low ethical blood cell count, and dysfunctional management. But, it will feel very cool.

    In my humble (and admittedly rather limited…) view, two things that are too often not done very well at all in the civilian world (be it corporate or government) are leadership and training (with professional development having a foot in both camps but also somewhat neglected or misapplied).

    Too often leadership (as we would grasp it in the military) is either largely absent or reduced to a bumper sticker/wall poster level of thought and application. Training (even in some aspects of emergency services) is often regarded as a cost rather than as an investment, and even when it is pursued it can be rudimentary, “check box” and poorly thought out.

    In the military we make a fetish of training (because we can) but there is a happy median somewhere, which in my opinion is often not found in many civilian organizations.

  2. Wow! Great blog post! Keep them coming!

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