How to make your people more cohesive.

I’ve been lucky.  I've been part of a cohesive team. I have played in the same musical group for 27 years. The group is the Evergreen Club Gamelan.

Evergreen is not famous like U2, Coldplay or the Rolling Stones. I'm pretty sure you haven't heard of us. But we do have a bit of a following and a reputation for being good at what we do, including several CD’s, many concert tours and a couple of Hollywood film sound tracks.

While we’ve had many great things happen to us over the years, it hasn’t been the quickest path to financial freedom. Yet, many of the members have been in the band since it started more than 30 years ago.

Why is that? Why would people be part of something for so long when the financial incentives are low?

Because being part of a cohesive group is a powerful experience. It satisfies so much of what we look for in our work and, dare I say, even in our lives.


It’s not easy though.

Building a cohesive team is not easy. If it were, they'd be everywhere. And you know they're not.

You see, people come into organizations with their own agendas. Often people join for financial reasons first and career path reasons second. Taking a job is a WIIFM decision.

It is possible some people choose where they work because of what the company does. But by and large, most people are not looking at that end product or service as the motivating factor. So it’s easy to understand why building cohesive teams is difficult.

That is if you’re lucky enough to be able to choose where you want to work.

Often in a tough economy, many people go where they can. Will they be a team player? It's hard to know.

But employees aren’t the only ones to blame. According to this survey featured in Canadian HR Reporter, nearly half (47 percent) of people are unhappy in their job.

According to the same survey, 49 percent of employers admitted to interviewing people that were not a good fit but hired them anyway.

When you have a group of people who aren’t a good fit, you’re likely to have some of these issues that get in the way of group cohesion, such as:

A lack of diverse skills and interests.

  • Communication issues

  • Confusion about roles.

  • Workplace conflicts

Things get even worse if you add in poor leadership and a poor work environment.

Cohesion happens in waves

When the only thing that motivates you at your workplace is the paycheck, things can get old pretty fast.

It’s easier to build a cohesive team if everyone already shares a passion for what the organization does, like my experience with Evergreen. Everyone who played in that group had a deep respect for the group’s end product – the music.

As a matter of fact, we had the 5 behaviours of a cohesive team, as outlined by author Patrick Leccioni in his book "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”. We had trust, conflict, commitment, accountability and results.

But even with Evergreen, cohesion happened in waves. It took a while for everything to fall into place. In the first few years, members came and went. After a while, we had the right group of people who embodied the following three main characteristics:

Interpersonal attraction -  we enjoyed playing with each other and looked forward to each opportunity

Group pride - pride of membership.

Commitment to the work.  The players believed in the goals of the group and worked hard to make them happen.

Once that happened, we began to build our successes. We would get pieces written for us and produce cd’s and concerts. Our reputation continued (in our small niche) to grow. This led to performances at international festivals or various concert series.


In a sense, the job became easier too, because we knew what we were capable of and didn’t need to spend as much time putting our shows together.

It’s hard to work somewhere where the turnover is high and you’re always training a new person. It’s hard to get into a performance groove, if you will.

If you do something together often enough with the same people, you begin to develop a sixth sense. In our case, if mistakes occurred in performance, the players would have each other’s back.


My favorite moments are always on stage during a performance. The communication is between eyes, nods and smiles. 

You need to go for it

So what are the things that led to this type of cohesion in our group? What are the lessons you can learn?

As I mentioned before, it didn’t happen overnight. And to be honest, becoming a cohesive group was not our goal. Our goal was to produce a great end product, but being cohesive was the best way to do that. Our group standard of what we could and should achieve was at the forefront of all our minds.

Our cohesion happened over time as the right mix of people became part of the group. Then again, we had the luxury of time. Our existence wasn’t driven by needing to make a profit, as businesses such as yours is.

Never-the-less, I still think there’s something here for you.

There are steps you can take to build a cohesive team, which I will outline below. As I went through them, I saw many things that occurred in Evergreen (albeit in a less formal way).

But I would be lying if I said it was not a bumpy path. The tricky part in building cohesive groups are your people.


If you look at your present organization, you'll see you have a range of adopters. There are some who like the idea of being a cohesive team. There are some who are slow to change their behavior but may come around, and those who just plain hate the idea.

You have to proceed anyway, because it's the only way to know where your challenges lie and the changes you’ll need to make.


Things you can do to build a cohesive team.


1) Have a vision and share it – Business owners need to have vision and that vision must be shared. Everyone likes to know where they’re going, even if they don’t like where they’re going. And ultimately, you need to know who is or isn’t on board and decide what to do about that.

2) Build trust - Without trust there will never be cohesion. It has to be a priority. To learn more about building trust, read my post about that.

3) Spend time together outside of work  - Yes, there are those who may cringe, saying “We already spend too much time together at work”. But getting together in less formal environments is important.

The members of the team will see each other as people rather than as a role in the organization. Don’t under estimate the power of the summer BBQ or Holiday party. BTW – spend the money on outside catering so everyone on your team can enjoy themselves.



4) Do the team building. I know, I know… You might think I am a bit biased here but I myself was a big nay-sayer about the value of such things. Done right, it CAN impact people. There's a lot of schlock out there so be careful. See what to look for here. The advantage of these is they let your team practice teamwork.

5) Celebrate team successes. We musicians are really good at this one. If there’s one thing we do well, it’s going out to celebrate after a great performance. We pat each other on the back, joke about the things that didn’t go quite as planned and reflect on why we love what we do. I highly recommend this for building a cohesive group.

6) Celebrate / acknowledge personal occasions. Birthday’s, marriages, (Hey maybe even divorces) - any happy milestones that are important in the lives of the people on your team. When people know that their colleagues care about them on a personal level, it goes a long way toward building bonds.

7) Do a personality assessment program. – If you want to fast track building a cohesive team, this is a great investment. You probably know these, but there are Myers Briggs, Disc, True Colours, to name a few.

8) Volunteer together. – There is nothing like helping people to make you feel gratitude and closer to the people you work with.

9) Put on a company trade show – I have seen this a couple of times and people love it. Organize a day away from the office where each department makes a small pop up booth to showcase what they do. They can talk about their challenges and how they are connected to the other departments. Cater a lunch for added impact.

10) Invest in your team through professional development. When you teach everyone new skills, they grow together and this new shared knowledge bonds them. We did this often in Evergreen - always raising the group level as a whole, not just the individual.

11) Deal with the conflicts. It’s important to realize that there are going to be conflicts. God knows, Evergreen has had their share of blow outs, if I can hang out the laundry here. Know there will be conflict and do your best to get through it. Here are 3 ways to resolve workplace conflict.

12) Embrace the diversity. I’m a big believer in diversity. It can’t be ignored. It’s the biggest challenge we are facing as a people. It forces us to accept change. There are so many advantages to diverse ways of thinking and they only make your team stronger. First you need to get out of your own culture bubble. Read about how to do that here.

Do’s and Don’ts


Do Ask for feedback.

Building a cohesive team is a work in progress. Like musical groups or sport teams, there will be better years than others due to the people in the room. The list of items I put on this page may give you the impression that if you check them off, you will have created a cohesive team. Not so.

This is because you’re working with people. Some things will work while others will fall short. You’ve got to keep asking for feedback to know what is working. Accepting feedback is a very humbling experience. My favourite story about that is How to receive feedback like a Japanese shopkeeper

Don’t be afraid to give Feedback.

If you are leading a cohesive team, feedback is a two-way street. There are going to be times when you’ll need to give people feedback to keep them moving towards your vision. This is nothing to shy away from. It’s important and, done well, it doesn’t have to be a negative experience.

Learn how to get people begging for your feedback here.


Now get going

There’s nothing like being part of a cohesive team. It’s the type of thing you’ll look back on sometime down the road with pride and a great sense of accomplishment. It might not only be until then that you realize how special the team was. Maybe you’ll have the good fortune to know it in the moment.

I can help.

While I can’t help you with everything on that list, there are a couple of ways I can help. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you need help with the experiential parts of building a cohesive team.


Will you be the one?

Will your organization be the one that we will read about in the business books of the future? Will you be part of the organization they use as an example of a great cohesive team? I hope so. Good luck!

So have you been or are you on a really cohesive team? Are you having trouble building one? No matter which, I'd love to hear your story. Please leave your comments or stories below.