What I learned about team chemistry that you need to know

Does your team have chemistry?

You know, that “thing” that many of us look for in our personal relationships, with our friends, or even where we work.

In our personal relationships, it’s what we look for to know that we’ve met someone special. It’s often more of a happenstance – we meet someone and it’s there - or it’s not. We can tell. It’s almost instantaneous.  We have chemistry with them. We’re on the same page; it’s as if our minds are connected. There’s a certain ease.

However, chemistry is much more difficult to achieve at work.  

We’re on the lookout for it. That’s because people don’t want to be on just any team, they want to be on a team that has chemistry.

Why? Because having chemistry between team members allows special things - things that surpass the ordinary - to happen. These are the things that get you excited about going to work everyday.

Having chemistry on your team is like having a team on steroids.  You know it will be successful. You can conquer anything. 

But it’s elusive, hiding somewhere.  Can you make it happen?

Maybe.  Just maybe…


It’s not about the stars

Putting a team together doesn’t mean it will have chemistry.  The members of the team might look good on paper.  All the stats of everyone one involved make it look like the team should be great, but that’s no guarantee.

As a matter of fact, research shows that getting a bunch of great minds together to work on a project doesn’t necessarily lead to good cooperation.  So that’s not the answer.

Many sports coaches will tell you that putting all the best players together on the same team won’t lead to great team chemistry either.

In Sam Walker’s book, “The Captain Class”, a book that researches why certain sports teams have been so successful, he believes that it’s the qualities of the leader that contribute to building great teams.  


I won’t disagree and say that leadership is not important. But I may argue that a leader can only do so much, and that the real chemistry has to come from the players (co-workers) themselves.

People who work well together do so not just because of talent, degrees, statistics or past accomplishments.  They do so because they’re humans who connect to one another.

If you can get great connections happening between team members, you have the possibility of chemistry. 



What I know…

If you’ve read my posts before, you may recall that I have played in the same musical ensemble for 27 years. It is the Evergreen Club Gamelan.

It’s with this 8-member group that I’ve been fortunate enough to experience incredible chemistry.  

It’s a common occurrence for Evergreen to have magical moments in performances - even ones beyond our expectations, ones where chills run up my spine during a performance.

How did this happen? Did we plan it that way?  I wish I could say we did but it’s been a multi-faceted process.   

I have the hindsight to realize what it took to set up opportunities for chemistry.   I’ll go through a few here in the hope that it can help you.



It sounds obvious, of course, that much of this chemistry had to do with getting the right people in the group. But figuring out who that was took time.  There was some trial and error.



What actually helped us was that Evergreen wasn’t a full time job and most of the players (myself included) would play with other ensembles from time to time to make ends meet. Occasionally there would be booking dates that conflicted, so we would need to hire substitutes.

Anyone we brought in was definitely capable of playing their part. They were all well-trained musicians. But that’s when I noticed that chemistry was going to be harder to achieve.  

There were some players who simply saw playing in the group as a gig. Others like myself saw it as a vehicle on which to build a career.   We got more into the music, did research on the style; and since the instruments were from Indonesia, there was a lot one could learn about the cultural significance of this type of music.

In a way, the substitutes actually helped the rest of us realize what qualities we wanted in our regular players. As time went on, we were able to discuss what (and who) didn’t work for the group, thereby solidifying our sound, our approach and our goals.

You might say, “Why didn’t you just hire the right people from the start?”  In our case, it was because we didn’t really know at the start what the right fit was. It took a while for us to develop our own raison-d’être, our vision for where the group would go, and an identity. We were breaking new ground in terms of the repertoire we played. Because of this we had:


Conversation and openness


Over the years, there have been lots and lots of conversations.

These conversations happened in rehearsals, performance situations, while traveling together, eating and drinking together, and through stressful situations like recordings. We listened to music together. We did professional development workshops together.

Essentially we really got to know each other on many different levels.  We would socialize together; we would end up on other projects together; we would recommend each other for other jobs. As we got older, we attended each other’s weddings.  In a sense, we became like family, which meant that we didn’t hold back when things weren’t going well and celebrated when things were.    So then there was:




Of course, when you get that close to people, there are lots of disagreements, heated conversations and intense moments.  We didn’t shy away from conflict.

Time is great for giving one perspective on conflict. 

In the early years when we didn’t know each other so well, I found conflict was more worrisome.  Did someone not like you, was it personal, or was it an attack on your ability, your sensibility?   (A musician’s ego can be a fragile thing).

But as the years passed, we got used to our conflicts and simply viewed them as a process we would have to go through from time to time.  As competent artists, we all had strong ideas.

Conflicts almost always arose because somebody thought something was getting in the way of the group realizing our best performance.  Sometimes we differed on what that realization was.  The conflict was a way to work through to that end.


Looking back now, I realize how important conflict was to creating our chemistry.



Because we had:


Shared goals 

There is core of us in the group who have been in Evergreen for 25 or more years.  In terms of bands, that’s a big number.  That’s commitment. It’s even more powerful because there is no salary.  Sure, we get paid for the gigs we do but we can always turn a gig down.  There are no contracts or binding agreements.  If you don’t want to be there, you don’t have to be.  

Staying together for this long is a testament to how committed we are. The sacrifices people are willing to make for the existence of the group demonstrate how we all believe in keeping it going.

Believe me, this is important when you are unloading a truck full of gear after a gig in the cold at two in the morning.  It shows there is:



Each one of us has technical strengths and weaknesses as well personal idiosyncrasies that can drive our colleagues nuts. But at the end of the day, there is always respect for what we can make happen on stage.  That respect wasn’t just handed out one day (not that anyone was impolite or rude); it was earned over years of playing together. We know that we have:



Everyone takes extremely seriously the responsibility for creating the best performance possible. Sometimes you receive a part you just can’t play without practicing many extra hours in your personal time. Putting the extra time outside group rehearsal is never ever something we complain about. We are in for a penny, in for a pound. This of course leads to:




We know that we can trust each other to do our best.  We all know that our performance standards are high and we know that each one of us does what we have to do to meet those standards. If someone can’t, for instance, make a rehearsal, we all trust that our group performance standards will still be met.

This mix of qualities makes being on stage a very powerful experience. It removes a lot of worry that can typically be present when you don’t have the connections that we have in the group.  It allows us to really focus on the product- the piece that we have to perform.  It allows us to be the best we can be.


5 Things you can do to bring this to your world.

I know you’re saying, “Paul, my team is not a band and I don’t have years to wait for my team to find chemistry.  I want it faster.  What can I do to speed things up?”

To be honest, I don’t think you can short cut the time. Developing relationships can’t be hurried, but if you can put the following things in place, it may help speed things up.


1) Map out as best you can the people you need on your team.

I’m not just talking about skills. I’m talking about personalities. You can use various personality tests like DISC or Myers-Briggs, but you won’t really know until the team starts to work together.  (It’s a bit like Tinder – it’s all words and pictures until you meet the person).

Finding the right people may be a continual quest.   You may put a great group together for a while and then someone moves on and the chemistry vanishes.  That’s what makes finding group chemistry so special: it can be fleeting.


2) Live life with the team.

There’s no way around this.  To achieve chemistry, team members need to spend lots of hours together. That means at work, that means after work. If you’re a leader, you can, and should, facilitate these opportunities.


3) Team members need to put themselves out there. 

You need people who aren’t afraid to be who they are, warts and all. It’s the only fair thing for all concerned. When people know each other well, it will lead to a degree of predictability and comfort with their colleagues. It also removes a lot of the worry about how ideas will be received.


4) Embrace Conflict

Healthy conflict means that people care.  Don’t shy away from it. Sometimes it’s not pretty but it’s necessary. 


5) Make sure they share the same goals. 

This will only be discovered through lots of conversation. Team members need to discuss the future. They need to dream together a bit.


6) Respect how each other does things.

While having simpatico on a team is wonderful, it’s the differences among the team members that make it strong. Take advantage of those differences as opposed to making everyone think the same way.

Hopefully if you can get these things in place, there will be lots of high-fiving going on around the office.

 I’d love to hear your stories about chemistry at work and how you achieved it, in the comments below.