What is this so-called team cohesion that everyone is talking about in the field of sport lately? As the above quote states, it is apparently not enough to be wearing the same t-shirts, to have the same team name and to be training in the same facilities, no, there is more to a team than that.
German football coach Joachim Löw seemed well aware of this fact and accommodated his players in Campo Bahia for the FIFA world cup 2014 in Brazil. The world watched curiously while “Löw’s boys” stayed together in shared-flat-like huts, were asked to spend their free time together as a team and went on teambuilding excursions.
What is team cohesion?
There are two kinds of team cohesion: social cohesion and task cohesion. Social cohesion means that the team likes to spend time together and that its members have relationships outside the court, the pitch, the field or the rink. Team members respect and like each other, they trust one another and generally feel like a unit. Task cohesion is related to the task at hand, meaning the sport. Members are aware of their role on the team, feel that they can show off their strengths and know how they can contribute to the success of the team.
What are ‘teambuilding’ interventions?
Naturally, coaches and players want to increase their team’s success and the players’ satisfaction and thus inquire about teambuilding interventions with sport psychology consultants. In the literature, a team building intervention is described as “a method of helping the group to (a) increase effectiveness, (b) satisfy the needs of its members, or (c) improve work conditions”. Of course it is of great interest if team building interventions have an effect on sport performance. To assess this relationship, a meta-analysis of a total of 46 studies on this topic was conducted, including almost 10.000 athletes of more than 1000 sport teams. The results of this study showed that in the sport context, cohesiveness does in fact have an exceptionally strong relationship with sport performance. Both aforementioned types of cohesion are equally important in this context: it has been found that both social and task cohesion have a moderate to large effect on team performance. However, teambuilding interventions need to last longer than just a couple of days to be effective; teams actually need to work on their cohesion for weeks and even months to really reap the rewards on the team’s sport performance.
How to increase team cohesion?
After having read about the positive effects of team cohesion, you might want to know, how to actually increase the cohesion of a team. Well, you are in luck: experts in the field name one variable that has been closely linked to team cohesion and can be worked on: role clarity. It is essential in a team that its members have clarity with regard to their own role. Obviously, team members need to be aware of their official position on the team. Are they a forward? A point guard? A setter? A quarterback? Besides these official playing positions and roles, players also need to know what the coach and the other team members further expect from them. Are they expected to motivate the group in their position as an informal leader next to the captain? Are they wanted to speak to the media after games? Is it desired that they mediate between individual players due to their communicative skills? Every season, teams should take some time and invest some effort into writing down or at least talking about what they expect of the individual team members with regard to their formal and informal roles and tasks. Additionally, each team member has to consider whether they can fulfill the expectations that are placed upon them. If there is role clarity within a team and the individual members accept their roles, then you are on a good path to a cohesive team.
Cohesion in other settings
It is important to mention that team cohesion is not only important in the competitive sport setting, but also in the exercise, the rehabilitation and the prevention sector. It has for example been found that team building interventions go along with a higher experienced effort in exercise classes for adults and with a higher attendance and satisfaction in the youth sport setting.
Were the aforementioned teambuilding activities the reason why the German team won the FIFA world cup 2014? I might be too biased to answer this question, being a German myself. However, what I can say with certainty is that the team’s spirit in Brazil was high, the players supported each other through thick and thin, played a great tournament – and won (sorry to rub it in…). Therefore, we should all take the following quote by Babe Ruth, a former professional baseball player, to heart: “The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the team won’t be worth a dime.”