Team Resilience

The Reciprocal Relationship between Team Cohesion and Individual Wellbeing

There's a link between effective teams and individual wellbeing - and it influences an organization's bottom line. Read more about how the link can be leveraged for holistic success, here.


Authors Tyler Phillips (Research Psychologist & Head of Research and Content) and Dr Etienne van der Walt (neurologist and CEO & founder of Neurozone®)

Why should organizations care about the wellbeing of their employees? Besides the virtues of empathy, low employee wellbeing literally costs organizations a great deal. For example, Gallup recently found that employee burnout costs $322 billion in turnover and lost productivity around the globe, and up to 20% of total payroll. When an organization’s workforce is suffering, the bottom line suffers too.  

What can be done, then, to help secure or improve employee wellbeing? First, it’s essential to bear in mind that wellbeing is not simply the absence of psychological problems (e.g. symptoms of burnout, anxiety, or depression). Rather, it represents the presence of positive emotions or optimal mental functioning. The question then becomes: how can employee experiences at work be infused with genuine positivity so as to promote their wellbeing?  

Given that in most organizations, individuals are nested in functional teams, we might turn to team dynamics. Some researchers propose that the relationship between team cohesion and individual wellbeing is clear and reciprocal. On the one hand, being involved in smoothly and strongly connected teams tends to promote positive emotions and effective functioning in individual members. On the other, individuals who are positive and high-functioning tend to help create a team atmosphere that promotes robust connectedness. Highly cohesive teams foster individuals who are well, and vice versa. 

That being said, organizational psychologists caution that simply gathering high-functioning individuals together will not automatically create a highly cohesive team. Rather, this collection of individuals must practice an intentional ‘togetherness’, coordinating their perceptions and efforts to reflect that they are part of the same unified whole. The more effective the team dynamics are at maintaining or strengthening this ‘togetherness’ while working, the higher the resilience of the team tends to be.           

The higher the team’s performance capacity tends to be, as well. One study examined the brain activity (through EEG signals) between people working on tasks either together as a team or independently as separate individuals. They found, firstly, that for those who operate as a team (i.e. cooperate and collaborate to solve the problem), their brain waves tend to synchronize (i.e. to fire in the same patterns), while the brain waves of separately working individuals do not. Secondly, those who work in a team (and have synchronized brain waves) tend to outperform, or be more successful than, the group of individuals who try to figure out the problem by themselves. This study therefore showed that when people come together to work collaboratively towards a common goal – operating as a single unified whole – they form a ‘collective brain’ that produces output superior to any one individual brain.  

Team cohesion may therefore also promote team effectiveness, or the high performance of the team. Of course, being part of a team that is high-performing is likely an enjoyable, motivating, or fulfilling experience. So, on top of the fact that team cohesion can meet one of our innate biological needs (to be bonded and belong together), it may also give us additional psychological benefits via this ‘success effect’ of the collective brain. Boosting positivity in more than one way, operating from a position of and toward team togetherness helps our own individual wellbeing. And that, in tandem with the collective brain’s success effect, will help an organization’s bottom line.

So how do organizational leaders enable their teams to be more cohesive? They might benefit from coaching, as being guided to adopt a more relational leadership style (a lead-by-example approach to cohesiveness) has been found to promote team performance and wellbeing. Yet there are many other facets of team life that can promote or preclude effective team togetherness and resilience. Thankfully, Neurozone® has developed a tool that assesses these many facets (as well as a team’s resilience), and recommends practical actions for maintaining them or cultivating a higher degree of them. That tool is the Neurozone® Team Assessment. Mapping a team’s strengths and weaknesses, and charting a route to improve the former, the Team Assessment equips leaders with everything they need to get their team members to cohere into a robust collective brain – a unit more capable of solving problems, keeping its individuals well, and saving an organization’s bottom line from preventable losses.      

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