Organizational Cohesion – The Missing Link?

25 Apr

Is a lack of organizational cohesion the missing link in making your organization work?  Cohesion is the force or forces that bind an entity together.  A lack of cohesion would then be the force or forces that pull an entity apart.  Need I say more about the importance of organizational cohesion?


Imagine lining up hundreds of bocce balls into tightly packed rows on a paved street at the top of a hill.  The mission is simple: Roll the balls down the hill while maintaining formation.  As the balls start to roll, they begin to bang into each other and hit various dips and bumps in the road.  They begin to scatter!  As you rush to shore up the right flank, the left flank starts to wonder.  If you are thinking this would be a nearly impossible task or, at the very least, take all of your efforts, then you are beginning to grasp the concept of cohesion.

You see, the challenge of cohesion is not one of not knowing, but one of not doing (and not because they don’t want to).  The bocce balls don’t need to be reminded to go down the hill, they already know.  If they aren’t going down the hill, there is likely a very good reason and what they need is help.    In our organizations, keeping the organization cohesive means keeping people working together.  And unlike bocce balls, the forces that most often try to pull the organization apart are relational.  Too often, while organizational leaders are clarifying and posting the mission statement, they are ignoring relational issues all around them.  It’s like expecting your marriage to be strong because you hang your marriage certificate where your spouse can see it!  Marriages and organizational cohesion are hard work because they are both about maintaining personal relationships.

Organizational cohesion is a top-down leadership issue.  Here are the highlights of a cohesive organization:

  1. Cohesion starts at the top. The Senior Leadership Team needs to have healthy and functional relationships. If the Senior Leadership Team doesn’t maintain a strong bond, it is not likely to exist at lower levels.
  2. The Senior Leadership Team needs to then engage Team Leaders. Team Leaders at the middle ranks need to be skilled in relationship issues as they will deal with the majority of the people. Not only do they need to be in healthy relationship with each other (horizontally) but also with senior and junior levels (vertically).  Arguably, the Team Leaders are the most important players in the cohesion equation.
  3. Finally, Team Leaders need to foster healthy relationships with and among their team members. Teams need to learn interpersonal skills for resolving issues within their team and with other teams.

8 thoughts on “Organizational Cohesion – The Missing Link?

  1. Excellent article, well written. I feel that is the missing link, even if there is fast turn around at the senior level, that cohesive force has to be maintained. Middle managers maintain a working relationship with their team in order to get the work done or else it will be a disaster on the front lines.

  2. I like your post and agree. I think elaborating, providing some work place scenario(s) and specific examples of what can enhance cohesion or scatter would be helpful too.

  3. another great article Robert. Thanks for taking the time to write and share these. Over my working life I have been in situations where the organizational cohesion was strong and some where it was almost non existent. Strong cohesion always resulted in better productivity and a happier more stable work environment. Every individual in the organization can contribute to cohesion by attempting to maintain good relationships with their co-workers even if management does not take the lead some cohesion is better than none.

  4. Thanks Bob – another interesting read.
    I didn’t often have to deal with team conflict resolution as a manager, and it scared the heck out of me the first time I had to do it. But as I became more experienced with identifying and trying to defuse situations, I learned that managing conflict can sometimes lead to personal growth and benefit to the organization.

  5. Thanks for sharing your article on Organizational Cohesion. I liked the way you described the “the forces that most often try to pull the organization apart are relational”. I would be excited to read more on the skills of the different levels of management you described.

  6. I couldn’t agree more. Like the article suggests, it takes work to create a healthy workplace environment. Too often we focus on the end result, which in today’s environment is unfortunately paramount. Your blog and associated articles are worth the read.

  7. I always like reading about teams. I really liked your article. If I could offer any feedback it would be in regards to the first paragraph. You say “Cohesion is the force or forces that bind an entity together. A lack of cohesion would then be the force or forces that pull an entity apart”. I only think that cohesion is a force. By saying that they are both forces, in my mind, draws a picture that the natural state is to stay the last state you were in until acted upon by a force. In my experience with good leaders and bad I have come to believe that the natural state of a team is that of lacking cohesiveness. The reason is that an unhealthy team does not need work to be done in order to maintain the state of separation. However, a team that is cohesive still needs the leadership you describe in order to stay together.

  8. Good article. I agree that Org cohesion is top-down Leadership issue and your 3 points are good. I also thing that organizational cohesion require a sense of belonging to the organization (team) and that all members need to understand the mission, vision and believed in it what they are doing. I have seen very strong Org cohesion because of strong leadership and focus mission with weak healthy relationship, but as soon as that leader left the organization, the organization needed healing and rest time.

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