Building team cohesion in military units

Understanding cohesion—what it is and what it isn’t—can help you build stronger connections with the members of your unit. Social cohesion—the nature of the bonds between team members—is a measure of military performance, combat motivation, and social support. In military units, strong bonds can help Service Members cope better with stressful events, depression, and trauma. But “cohesion” also can mean different things depending on the type of team or group you’re a part of. Debunking the common myths of social cohesion can help you learn what it really takes to build a stronger team.

Myth 1: To be a cohesive team, we must all be similar. 

Fact: A cohesive team can be made of diverse individuals with different backgrounds, experiences, beliefs, and values. You don’t have to be exactly like your unit members to achieve cohesion—in fact, sharing varied perspectives and making the most of different talents will improve your ability to problem solve and help make your team even stronger.

Myth 2: Spending a lot of time together will naturally keep us unified. 

Fact: While it’s true that lots of time together in close quarters presents ample opportunity to get closer to your unit members, developing team cohesion takes much more than that. Cohesion comes when you actively engage in meaningful conversations and capitalize on chances to build trust. Just as with close personal relationships, it takes intentional effort to create the genuine connections that will help your unit function effectively.

Myth 3: Hazing will bring us closer together. 

Fact:Hazing”—or engaging in initiation rituals that cause physical or psychological harm—doesn’t foster bonding or team unity in military settings. Although ceremonies and rites of passage are important parts of military tradition, hazing can drive away even strong and bright team members. Participating in positive team-building activities creates significantly more team cohesion than hazing rituals do. 

What builds social and team cohesion

Now that we’ve covered what social and team cohesion is not, here are some things you can focus on to build stronger cohesion in your unit: 

  • Mutual support. Social support—the care you give to or get from others—comes in many different forms. Whether it’s helping out a friend, taking care of things at home, or watching your fellow Service Member’s back, social support is a key element in increasing cohesion and strengthening bonds in all kinds of settings.
  • Cooperation. Trust and choice are basic elements that help a group work together smoothly and optimize cooperation. A cohesive unit is made up of members who effectively communicate, overcome conflict, and willingly choose to work together.
  • Shared commitment. In a cohesive group, members are both committed to one another and collectively committed to a task, mission, or cause. Whether it means fostering close one-on-one relationships or recognizing that every member of the team is crucial to achieving unit success, cohesion is all about interdependence and shared goals.

Debrief 

Social and team cohesion are important factors in optimizing your well-being and performance. The more supportive, cooperative, and committed you are to your unit members and your work, the stronger you and your team can be. Think about how cohesive your team and unit are and how connected you feel to those around you. 

HPRC’s #GotMySix campaign encourages you to think about your connection to others and how their support makes a difference in your life. Join the campaign by posting a message on social media about the support and cohesion within your team or unit, and include #GotMySix in your post.

Sources

Ahronson, A., & Cameron, J. E. (2007). The nature and consequences of group cohesion in a military sample. Military Psychology, 19(1), 9–25. doi:10.1080/08995600701323277

Keller, K. M., Matthews, M., Hall, K. C., & Bauman, M. (2017). Hazing Prevention and Response: Training for Military Leaders. Rand Corporation, Santa Monica, CA, Retrieved from: https://www.rand.org/pubs/tools/TL240.html

McGene, J. (2013). Social Fitness and Resilience: A Review of Relevant Constructs, Measures, and Links to Well-Being. Rand Corporation, Santa Monica, CA, Retrieved from: https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR100/RR108/...

Stanley, D. (2003). What do we know about social cohesion: The research perspective of the Federal Government's Social Cohesion Research Network. Canadian Journal of Sociology / Cahiers canadiens de sociologie, 28(1), 5–17. doi:10.2307/3341872

Wong, L., Kolditz, T. A., Millen, R. A., & Potter, T. M. (2003). Why They Fight: Combat Motivation in the Iraq War. Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College.