Thursday, October 9, 2014

Cohesion Breeds True Synergy

Aloha and welcome back!  It has been quite a long time since my last entry and, after having dealt with "real life" on a number of important occasions, I am looking forward to engaging you in thoughtful discussions once again.

Lately, there have been examples, front and center in my professional life, where I have seen large opportunities missed.  Specific to my experience, these "cost" the company revenue in the sense that there was revenue that could have been earned but was not.  However, this could just as easily be a degradation of the professional credibility as a team (or member of a team), a lack of increase in operational efficiency (which does cost the company money in reality), etc. 

So what is cohesion exactly? states the definition as the following:

cohesion [koh-hee-zhuh n],  noun - the act or state of cohering, uniting, or sticking together.

That is "content free," but Wikipedia's summary of the topic is more helpful.

When discussing social groups, a group is said to be in a state of cohesion when its members possess bonds linking them to one another and to the group as a whole. Although cohesion is a multi-faceted process, it can be broken down into four main components: social relations, task relations, perceived unity, and emotions. Members of strongly cohesive groups are more inclined to participate readily and to stay with the group.

This is more closely aligned to what I have always expected as the qualities of a cohesive group of professionals, so let's delve into the four main components in a different order from the summary, above.  (Reader's note:  the Wikipedia article does not discuss these four components as discrete entities, so the commentary below is purely my own and is not a recapitulation of what you will read within that article.)

Task relations.  Businesses have a singular, primary goal.  By definition, that is to generate revenue (which holds true regardless of whether the business is for profit or not), but even if it were possible for a company's primary goal to be altruistic, for example, that does not detract from the point that there is a singular primary goal to be achieved.  As a result, all activities within that company have the larger intention of "moving the ball forward," i.e. making progress toward achieving that goal.  It is imperative, therefore, that all employees of the company regardless of size realize what this goal is and make a conscious commitment to not only establishing smaller goals for themselves that are aligned with the larger goal of the company but also to being successful in reaching those goals.

Perceived unity.  Commitment to established goals is great, but only if the perception of that commitment is in agreement with that commitment.  For example, any senior manager will tell you that among the many skills they must have to be successful, one of the primary skills is managing the expections of the Executive Management Team.  Specifically, the senior manager has the obligation to present a unified face to their organization to those who are peering in from the outside.  This "unified face," however, is only possible with the consistent examination of the actions of each member from the perspective of how it will impact the opinion of others on their commitment.

To grossly oversimplify that last statement, each team member should be sure that they are "doing the right thing" with respect to "moving the ball forward," as was stated in task relations.

Social relations.  In order for task relations to be realized, however, it must also be recognized that people are individuals and not members of a hive mentality.  Individuals may make decisions that are perceived by those individuals as being in alignment with the goals being striven for when in reality the alignment may not be as strong or is missing entirely.  To prevent this from derailing the group's progress, the ability to foster open and honest dialog between all members of the group is also essential.  There are books galore on how to properly communicate with members of a team (The One Minute Manager and Crucial Conversations are two that immediately come to mind), but these presuppose the acceptance that, without effective communication, the group will fail in achieving its goals.

Emotions.  Finally, no one will deny that there is pressure, sometimes great, applied from the top down for every employee to perform at their best.  It is understandable, then, that one or the other may react from a place of emotion rather than intellect when they observe things that are perceived as putting the success of the team at risk.  While you, the reader, may consider this to be a natural consequence of social relations, it is worth highlighting this separately since people will occasionally allow their egos to take center stage rather than make an intentional effort to remove the emotional component of the situation so that the underlying problem may be addressed and eliminated.

I have seen the results when one of these four principles are not followed.  It wasn't because the individuals were acting maliciously, but the end result was still the same:  impacted team members reacted as individuals as statements were made or actions performed.  Ultimately, the performance of the team was impacted and the level of success achieved was adversely impacted.

As the expression goes, "there is no 'i' in team."  The equivalent expression in Mandarin describes this as "one heart, one mind."  Remember that everyone on your team (should) have the same goal and be committed to not only taking steps individually that move the team forward as a group but also discussing with each other when risks to that goal are uncovered so that they may be addressed as early as possible.

What happens when these is achieved?  Synergy is defined, loosely, as a situation where the net effect is greater than the sum of the individual parts.  Applied here, this is when the ability of the team as a whole to achieve the goal of the team is much easier than if each individual attempted to act independently.  This should be the ideal end state for everyone reading this, since there are tangible benefits to you as a professional to visibly achieving the goals that your team has.