How can we increase unity on our team?

by Sam on March 30, 2010

One-Minute Answer:  In 1979 the Pittsburgh Pirates won their last World Series. The star on that team, Willie Stargell, would eventually enter the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. Another player, Dave Parker, also achieved distinction as an outstanding athlete. The rest of the team, however, consisted largely of journeymen ball players, many of whom never again had an opportunity to experience a season like this.


Unlike the case for most world champions, few Pirates were at or near the top of the statistical heap that year. Yet, the Buccos were the winningest team in the National League. According to the Baseball Almanac, “The championship title capped off a Cinderella season in which ‘Pops’ (Stargell) and his ‘Family’ brought fun back to baseball.”


Pirate fans past their early 40’s will forever remember the sight of the seventh inning stretch of the seventh game, when player wives danced on top of the Pirate dugout to the rhythms of Sister Sledge’s “We are Family.” It was the squad’s hymn. The unity it reflected was the essential ingredient in Pittsburgh’s recipe for success. When asked in post-season interviews to describe how the song reflected their season, players would point to the many dimensions of their camaraderie. “Pops” himself summed it up as, “We put aside a lot of petty jealousies.”


Does your team have differences it needs to put aside?



Five-Minute Answer:  I have seen each of the tools below increase team unity. The right one for your team—or several working in combination—can yield dramatic results. But rarely is any single intervention at a single point in time enough to do the trick. Disunity can be born overnight; unity can’t. Think of receiving a bad cut on your arm. It happens in an instant, but it takes a while to clean it thoroughly, disinfect it, stitch it, protect the stitches, endure the healing process, remove the stitches, and patiently wait for most—never all—of the scar to fade. Take enough time and do the right things to heal the wound.


1.    Knight a team leader.  Sometimes upper management lacks either the wisdom or the courage to openly and visibly authorize a clear leader of the team. As a result, in-charge wannabes forever duke it out.

2.    Knight a servant leader.  When the person at the head follows the proscriptions for servant leadership, members will experience a more unity-friendly team.

3.    Ensure well-run meetings.  Train team leaders in the art of running effective meetings and team members in behaving productively in those meetings.

4.    Give the team a glorious cause.  Provide teams with a reason for existence beyond a mundane list of corporate goals. Make it a powerful common purpose—a desirable future, an inspiring vision, a fantastic dream. Get them excited about a picture of success they’ll want to paint together.

5.    Establish a team charter.  Have members acknowledge and clarify their expectations of each other. See that they regularly evaluate how well the charter is being honored and that they take steps to make it so.

6.    Increase intimacy among members.  Aristotle said, “People never really know each other until they have eaten a certain amount of salt together.” Several of the tools on this list will serve to build relationships. There are another half-dozen exercises I’m aware of that even more directly address this need. If you’re not on a salt-free diet, give me a call to learn about them.

7.    Introduce the elephants in the room.  Here’s a strong statement for your consideration. Every team yet to achieve its full potential has a least one interpersonal relationship in need of healing. Fail to uncover and confront this relationship and you’ll fail to achieve team unity.

8.    Eliminate sources of competition.  What might there be in the task assigned to the group, in the performance management system, in the culture of the organization, the leadership of the team, or in the personality of its members that create a destructively competitive environment? What can you do to replace competitiveness with cooperation?

9.    Counsel disruptive members.  Sometimes there’s a member of the team who serves as its lightening rod. That person’s wake may be battering and even sinking other boats in the harbor. Whatever the nature of that person’s dysfunctional behavior, it must be addressed as quickly, directly, and tactfully as possible.

10.  Terminate incorrigible members.  Once a disruptive team member has resisted every opportunity to reform, and the situation is not getting better on its own, it may be time to remove that person from the team.

11.  Add team players.  Look for a proven record of team play when you either replace team members or expand their numbers. Note that there’s often an inverse relationship between people’s technical excellence and their readiness to contribute to a collective effort.

12.  Increase the emotional competence of members.  Provide training and coaching to team members to increase their understanding of how their emotional fabric affects their behavior as well as their working relationships with others.

13.  Eliminate obstacles.  Try this revealing and healing exercise for your team. It begins by detailing very clearly and graphically your vision of what teamwork looks like. Next, let the team identify where they believe they stand in relationship to the vision. The greatest value comes when you have them list all the barriers they see standing in the way of realizing that vision. After you get them to single out the three or four most daunting barriers, extract vows for appropriate actions to overcome the barriers and achieve the vision.

14.  Assign a team coach.  When the health of any team is key to the success of your organization, consider embedding in that team an outside professional akin to the way that war correspondents are assigned. That person observes the team in action, gives them feedback on their effectiveness, and recommends improvements in process. While not always present, the team coach attends key meetings, provides training and facilitation as needed, and ensures good use of the tools above.


Enough Said:  “They said you have to use your five best players, but I found you win with the five that fit together best.”  ~Red Auerbach, coach of the Boston Celtics


And Again:  “I’m not looking for the best players…I’m looking for the right ones.”  ~Coach Herb Brooks, rebuffing criticism of his selections for the 1980 USA Olympic hockey team


Next Week:  Next week’s focus is on making yourself more fireproof. A while back we looked at some really great ways to be seen by your boss. Next week the question is, “What are some really awful ways of being seen by my boss?” I predict you’ll be both affirmed and afflicted by the answers.

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