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How Team Identity and Cohesion Improve Performance

Learn what team cohesion and team identity are and why they’re critical to top team performance and a competitive advantage.

 

Now that we’ve talked about how to build and repair trust, let’s take the discussion a step further. What are the remaining connections that lead to top team performance and a competitive advantage?

 

In this post, we’ll introduce two related concepts—team cohesion and team identity—and talk about why they’re critical to top team performance and how they create a competitive advantage.

 

Team cohesion consists of the positive attitudes and behaviors that come from effective team interactions. As we talked about in post 6, social interactions lead to emotional responses (e.g., appreciation, confidence, disappointment, frustration). When team members experience positive emotions from interacting with one another, positive attitudes and behaviors associated with team membership—such as trust and cooperation—emerge. The order of influence is as follows:

 

Positive Emotions → Positive Attitudes → Positive Behaviors

Indicators of team cohesion include any attitude or behavior that represents attraction or attachment to the team or its members. Attitudes and behaviors that come from the positive emotions generated by effective team interactions include the following.

 

Positive Attitudes
Associated with Cohesion
Positive Behaviors
Associated with Cohesion

  • Trust

  • Identification

  • Engagement

  • Willingness to help

  • Job satisfaction

  • Commitment


  • Generosity

  • Cooperation

  • Coordination

  • Susceptibility to influence

  • Innovation

  • Staying

 

What is team identification?

 

Team identification is a positive attitude that indicates a team member strongly identifies with and feels a sense of oneness with the team. When identification is present, team members put the needs of the team before their own. And when identification is lacking, team members think, feel and act as individuals.

 

Team identity is said to be high when all members identify with a team. When team identity is high, members more effectively coordinate their efforts to achieve team goals because they put the needs of the team before their own. A feeling of team unity motivates individuals to commit their resources (e.g., time, emotion, energy) to achieve the team’s goals.

 

When team identity is weak or lacking, individuals focus primarily on what’s in it for them. As a result, effective orchestration and integration of team member skills is compromised and team performance suffers.

 

There are three elements to team identity: (1) cognitive alignment, (2) emotional alignment, and (3) behavioral alignment.

 

Cognitive alignment (i.e., shared meaning) is based on attraction to, and a clear understanding of, the team’s purpose. Perceived chances of success make team membership attractive. To facilitate cognitive alignment with a team, the team’s value to the company should be clear.

 

Creating cognitive alignment among team members requires intentional communication and practices. Cognitive alignment of members to a team’s goals and purposes is influenced by (1) the extent to which socialization practices create a sense of team unity, and (2) the power of the culture to nurture and sustain team identity—this includes the effectiveness of leaders’ activities at reinforcing a team’s identity.

 

Emotional alignment of team members is another critical component of team identity. When members are emotionally aligned, their affective needs are considered when teams determine how to coordinate and direct performance efforts. You may recall that awareness of others’ feelings is part of effective communication and emotional intelligence.

 

Last, behavioral alignment associated with team identity consists of the coordinated action that leads to top team performance. When people put the needs of the team before their own, efficiency and effectiveness are possible.

 

Not only does team identity positively impact tangible, short-term outcomes of a team by leading to effective accomplishment of team goals, it also positively impacts less tangible and longer-term outcomes by solidifying effective team processes and increasing satisfaction and commitment of team members.

 

As you can see, the combined impact of the positive attitudes and behaviors associated with team identity and cohesion would likely give any team—and the organization that it is part of—a clear competitive advantage.

 

In the next and final post in this series, we’ll recap how to build top-performing teams—through the lens of a key link. What do you think it is?

 

Action item:

Reflect on the following questions.

  • Have you ever been part of a team that you really identified with?
  • If  so, how willingly did team members give assistance and encouragement to one another and how did this impact the team’s performance?