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The Power of Cohesion

Estimated 4 Minute Read Time

Sample from David's upcoming New Book Release

Cohesion is the sense, within a group, of being a united whole, or the movement toward creating such a unified whole. Groups that successfully foster stewardship have members who feel they are an important part of the group, who forge bonds with other members of the group, and who treat each other with respect.

The ideal formula for cohesion is as follows:

Engaged Relationship + Clarity of Purpose = Cohesion

Here, relationship is the investment of each person and purpose is is what bring transcendence and meaning. The difference between simply having relationship and having a sense of cohesion is the addition of purpose. Unfortunately, too many families and organizations fail to add purpose to their relationships, which ultimately detracts from the impact of the group as well as from the group’s longevity.

Society today is perhaps more diverse than ever before. We live in a multicultural world that lacks many of the constructs that formerly, for better or for worse, bound us together.

Widespread religious views, common ethnicity, and even similar political perspectives rendered the world of yesterday a more homogenous place. The variety of differences in the world is perhaps more stark today than at any point in human history. Beyond the obvious cultural differences that separate us, we are also far more different generationally than at in any time in the past. That is because of the increasing rapidity of change in our era. Take four random people, one born in 1940, one in 1960, one in 1980, and one in the year 2000, and you will find they have lived fundamentally different lives with vastly different sets of experiences. This level of diversity, which strengthens us in so many ways, also creates a significant impediment to cohesion.

One of the most important things to understand about cohesion, and why Stewards focus on both relationship and purpose, is that there are actually two types of cohesion: social cohesion and task cohesion.

Social Cohesion

Social cohesion is the emotional connection a group feels on a relational level; their sense of friendship, closeness, and caring. People in groups with high social cohesion enjoy spending time together and feel a strong attachment to one another.

Task Cohesion

Task cohesion, on the other hand, is the connection a group feels when they work together on a shared task or common challenge. Task cohesion has to do with a group’s commitment to completing a specific goal or objective. Both social cohesion and task cohesion rely on the same critical building block: commonality.

From a social standpoint, cohesion can be developed by taking a step back from the myriad differences that divide us and finding shared values, experiences, or associations. Identifying areas where we can agree, or positive experiences we can share, can help develop social cohesion within a group. Whether it’s the shared value of creativity, the common experience of visiting Italy, or simply a sports team to rally around, discovering common denominators in a group can be a great way to build social cohesion. While social cohesion can be a powerful force, it is not without its potential negative side effects, which can include a desire for conformity (so that you appear to be an integrated member of the group), groupthink, and over-socializing—which can hamper a group that desires to be productive in addition to sociable. Also, social cohesion tends to be easy for extroverts but may be more difficult for introverted individuals, which can further limit its effectiveness.

The second way to build cohesion is through task cohesion, which relates to the commitment to achieve a goal in a collective manner. Task cohesion can be found in sports teams, military platoons, purposed businesses, visionary nonprofit organizations, and even within certain highly intentional families and groups of friends. There are two potential benefits to focusing on task cohesion in addition to, or even in place of, social cohesion.

First, task cohesion typically results in higher performance than social cohesion.

Researchers Albert Carron, Steven Bray, and Mark Eys discovered a strong correlation between task cohesion and performance. They studied high-level college basketball and soccer teams in Canada and found that teams with a stronger sense of cohesion tended to significantly outperform those with lower levels of cohesion. Beyond achieving better performance, highly cohesive, task-oriented groups interact more with each other, develop more supportive and communicative climates, are friendlier and more cooperative, and have a greater belief that their personal and group goals are being met than low-cohesion groups.

Second, task cohesion can overcome many of the differences that can stymie groups attempting to rely on social cohesion.

Instead of straining mightily to find similarities within a diverse group, which can become especially trying in larger numbers, focusing on a meaningful task can naturally bring groups to a high state of cohesion. The six-time World Champion Chicago Bulls of the ‘90s are a classic example.

While the team was certainly built around Michael Jordan, who was at the time the face of the entire NBA and one of the most recognizable people on the planet, it also included the quiet-but-forceful Scott Pippen, the flamboyant over-the-top Dennis Rodman, the choirboy-looking Steve Kerr, the Croatian Sensation Toni Kukoc, and their Zen master coach, Phil Jackson. While clearly a disparate group of individuals, they had a singular purpose that brought them successful cohesion. Strong task cohesion is also found in the military, where individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds, lifestyles, beliefs, and perspectives find that working together, especially in perilous situations, brings a sense of cohesion that can last a lifetime.

If you want to build a lasting sense of cohesion within your family, workplace, or community, think of the particular group you want to focus on and ask yourself the following questions:

What experiences, values, or beliefs do we share?

If you can’t think of any of the above, what new experiences could we share?

What common values could we identify?

Is there a shared task we could take on as a group or a shared goal we could work to achieve?

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David R. York is an estate planning attorney, CPA, author and speaker with more than 20 years of experience. He has worked with over 7,000 clients, including billionaires and business owners, celebrities, sports figures, and entrepreneurs of all shapes and sizes.

A highly sought after speaker, he has spoken on the Ted stage, Million Dollar Roundtable, the Investment and Wealth Institute and many more.



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