5 Key Steps on How To Build a Cohesive Team

October 7, 2020
5 Key Steps on How To Build a Cohesive Team


Social cohesiveness happens when members of a group bond with one another, creating a social group. A cohesive group is composed of strong social relations, unity, and emotions. The members of a cohesive team are more open to participate and solve any problems that might arise. 

With easy access to so much data and information, it is easier for organizations to be successful. For you to set your organization apart from the competition and gain the advantage, you will need to build a cohesive team. According to The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni, there are five behavioral principles that every team must embrace to become a cohesive team.


  1. Building Trust
  2. Mastering Conflict
  3. Achieving Commitment
  4. Embracing Accountability
  5. Focusing on Results

Building Trust

Most people think of trust as knowing how a person will behave in a given situation. For example, John knows that if he goes to Jim, he knows that Jim will deliver any assignment. He can count on him 100%. While that type of trust is valuable, it’s not enough to build a foundation of a great cohesive team. The kind of trust that is needed is vulnerability-based trust.

This type of trust is present when members of the team are comfortable with being transparent with each other. They can genuinely say things to each other like “I need help”, “I screwed up” and “I’m sorry”.

Team cohesiveness starts when everyone in the group knows that no one will hide their weaknesses or mistakes. If everyone is vulnerable enough to say those things, they will develop a deep sense of trust with each other. They won’t pretend to be someone that they’re not and will speak more freely/fearlessly with each other. Over time, this process will create a bond that many people don’t ever experience in their lives.

To build vulnerability trust within a team, the member must be willing to make sacrifices. Things like pride, fear, and egos must be sacrificed for the greater good of the team. This can relieve people who are tired of spending time and energy overthinking their actions and managing politics at work.

How do you practically build a cohesive team that is on the level of deep trust?

The book gave a quick 15-minute discussion exercise to improve team cohesiveness and to help build vulnerability trust within. Everyone on the team will briefly share the following about their lives:

  1. Where were they born?
  2. How many siblings do they have?
  3. Where do they fall in the order of children?
  4. What was the most interesting or difficult challenge for them as a kid?

The most important part is finding out what was uniquely challenging for everyone on the team when growing up. This exercise will lead to a newfound sense of respect within the group. This is due to the admiration that comes when someone realizes that someone endured and overcome hardship. Also, team cohesion will begin with the process of getting comfortable with vulnerability. This happens when someone tells something about themselves that they never mentioned before.

Mastering Conflict to Create Team Cohesiveness 

The second step of building a cohesive team is mastering conflict, which is an inevitable part of life. You can find conflict during work, building a business, leading a team, working with coworkers and the list goes on. Either there is conflict and we are talking about it or there is conflict and no one is talking about it.

The fear to express themselves and lack of conflict will cause problems for the team in the long run. The type of conflict I’m talking about here is not a conflict that is based on people and their personalities. Instead, it is the logical conflict where team members have a willingness to participate and move forward.

“When there is trust, conflict becomes nothing but the pursuit of truth. An attempt to find the best answer.” – Patrick Lencioni

Team cohesiveness appears when all members know that everyone else will be honest and admit when they don’t have the right answer. They would acknowledge when someone else has a better idea, and the fear of conflict is greatly reduced.

“Conflict without trust is politics, an attempt to manipulate others to win an argument regardless of the truth.”

The Conflict Continuum

There is a range of conflict dynamics that is described in what Patrick Lencioni calls “The Conflict Continuum”. There are two sides:

Zero Conflict

Artificial Harmony is a concept that appears when people have fake and disingenuous agreements around everything. This is originated when people have not connected, and there is a false positive surface between them.


(Mean-Spirited Personal Attacks)- which is when people have nasty, relentless, and debates that result in team conflict. ​

When handling conflict, you want to be just to the left of the demarcation line (the middle of both sides). That is the “Ideal Conflict Point”. This is when a group is engaged in the conflict but never jumps into the destructive side. This is a step forward to achieve team cohesiveness.

A way to spot conflict in a group discussion is to see if a team member is remaining silent. A topic or problem is brought up and once solutions are thrown out, they do not give feedback or engage in the discussion. Keep them engaged so that the level of conflict is brought back to a healthy level. Everyone at least needs to acknowledge the decision that has been made.

It is important to remember that trying to avoid conflict is not always the main problem. The real problem may lead back to the lack of trust within a team. If the team isn’t comfortable with being vulnerable with each other, they are not going to feel safe engaging in conflict. Trust must be established before mastering real conflict.

Achieving Commitment Develops Team Cohesiveness

The next step to build a cohesive team is to achieve a level of commitment among the group. People will not fully commit to a decision if they have not contributed their thoughts to it.

“If people don’t weigh-in, they can’t buy-in.”

However, it is important to see that this is not a reason to delay the decision-making process.

A Cohesive Team Who Commits

To avoid the consensus trap, you can use a concept called “disagree and commit.” This is when people can’t come to an agreement on an issue but are willing to commit to taking a mutual course of action. This will allow the leader to hear everyone’s opinion and bring the discussion to a clear close. Then, the leader can expect all team members to commit to that decision.

In this process, most people have an open mind and will follow a good idea that wasn’t theirs.  This happens when they had a chance to put in their opinions/ideas to the resolution. If the opposite happens, it is impossible for team members to actively commit to a decision.

People Who Don’t Commit

Those who did not commit to actively making a decision will go back to their regular activities and not contribute to the newly agreed idea.

Instead, they will wait for problems to build up and say, “Well, I never really liked that idea in the first place.” How many have heard this feedback way down the road?

This issue can be costly to a company and organization. The only way to stop that from happening is to demand mastering conflict from your team members and to let them know they will be held accountable for the decisions made collectively as a team. Embrace the conflict of putting out your idea, and then move into a willingness to actively make a decision.

Many times, team members might leave a meeting with different ideas about what was decided on collectively. One way to stop that from happening is at the end of the meeting, review the ideas that were agreed on by the team, and clarify anything that isn’t crystal clear. Taking this extra step will prevent any confusion and misaligned messages.

A Cohesive Team Embraces Accountability

The next step to build a cohesive team is for everyone to embrace their goals and objectives. In this step, everyone should be accountable for their responsibilities.

Some people are good at being accountable, and some people are bad at it. According to Merriam-webmasters, being accountable means that it is “an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions”. But when it comes to leading and building a cohesive team the definition expands and goes deeper.

Everyone on a team needs to be held accountable for the decisions and goals that are made, to be accomplished. If not, people may not follow the plan/decision and do something else that is in their best interest instead of the best interest of the team.

“Peer-to-peer accountability is the primary and most effective source of accountability on a team of a healthy organization.”

Most people think that the leader is supposed to be responsible for holding team members accountable, but it isn’t efficient or practical.

If the team knows everyone is committed to the goal and they know they can hold each other accountable without the issue of defensives or backlash, it is one step closer to becoming a cohesive team.

The importance of leading by example to build team cohesiveness 

This helps clear up confusion and keep each other on track. Peer-to-peer accountability is the most effective way to keep each other on track.

The only way for a team to develop peer-to-peer accountability is for the leader to show that he/she is willing to hold people accountable themselves. If the leader is reluctant to do so themselves, then the rest of the team is not going to do their part. The more comfortable a leader is in holding the team accountable, the less likely he/she will be asked to do so. It works the other way around too. As the saying goes, “You must lead by example.”

Some leaders may think that since they aren’t afraid to fire someone, that means that they don’t have an accountability problem. This is not true. Firing someone is not a sign of accountability but is the last act of cowardness for a leader that doesn’t know how or isn’t willing to hold their team members accountable. Accountability is about having the courage to approach a team member about their deficiencies/weaknesses, stand in the moment, and face their reaction. “To hold someone accountable is to care about them enough to risk having them blame you for pointing out their deficiencies.”

It is common for leaders to avoid holding team members accountable. Many leaders that struggle with this problem, try to convince themselves that their avoidance of accountability is a product of their kindness and that they don’t want to make their team feel bad. The reality is that they don’t want to make themselves feel bad. As a result, not holding someone accountable is an act of selfishness and it will prevent teams and companies from reaching their full potential.

Practical Exercise to Build Team Accountability

This is a great exercise that can transform how team members go about holding each other accountable and to higher standards of performance.

  1. Everyone writes down one thing that each other member (except themselves) does that makes the team better. Not their technical skills but the way that they behave when the team is together, that makes the team stronger.
  2. Then do the same thing again but this time, focus on one aspect that hurts the team.
  3. Starting with the leader, go around the room asking everyone to report on the leader’s one positive characteristic. Then allow the leader to provide his general, one-sentence reaction.
  4. Go around the room again asking everyone to report on the leader’s negative characteristic and then allow the leader to provide his general reaction
  5. Do this positive and negative characteristic/reaction process for all team members.

This exercise should take about 10 minutes per person and the total time will depend on the size of your team. Once completed, team members are usually in a state of mild amazement at the direct, honest, and helpful feedback that was shared. The result is the realization of the team as a whole, that holding each other accountable is a productive and survivable activity.

Focusing on Results to Build a Cohesive Team

The last and final behavior that a team needs to have to create a cohesive team is to be strongly results-oriented.

The whole purpose of building a cohesive team that has great trust, conflict, commitment, and accountability is to achieve results. It turns out that inattention to results is one of the greatest challenges to team success. Most team members have a greater focus on the results that benefit them personally over the results that benefit the team as a whole. Examples of those individual goals are career development, status, ego, commissions, etc.

The only measure of a great team is whether or not it accomplishes its targets and goals. Some members of teams that don’t regularly succeed will still think that they have a great team because they all care about each other and nobody leaves. What that really means is that they have a mediocre team that enjoys being together and isn’t bothered by failure. “No matter how good a team feels about itself, and how noble its mission might be, if the organization it leads rarely achieves its goals, then, by definition, it’s simply not a cohesive team.”

When it comes down to how a team measures its results, the most important standard is that the goals are shared across the whole team. In most companies and organizations, results are separated by departments which causes disconnection. “The only way for a team to really be a team and to maximize its output is to ensure that everyone is focused on the same priorities.” Regardless of each team member’s roles and expertise, great teams have all members do whatever they can to help the team achieve their goals.