Building Team Unity

Leaders are responsible for defining a shared vision, clarifying the organizational goals and for structuring the team to accomplish a unified mission. To lead a diverse team, leadership needs organizational buy in, unity, and connectivity. In order to move past the isolation and fragmentation that persists among some teams, leaders needs to solicit the input, involvement, and contribution from each of the team members. If you are leading a team, recognize that how you structure your team’s dialogue and decision making could either provide a great opportunity to foster unity and build trust, or could drive your team toward selfishness and fragmentation.

Here are some thoughts on how we can all win the hearts of the teams we lead and create team unity. 

1. Healthy Communication Builds Trust

In order to establish unity and buy-in across your team, you first must develop a climate of trust. Begin that important task by creating an environment of healthy communication across the your team. 

A study by Boies, Fiset, and Gill (2015) set out to evaluate the impact of healthy communication and trust on team unity. The study found that effective leadership stimulated healthy communication among team members, and through that increased communication, team members were able to acquire important information about their teammates, such as personal competence, which, in turn, led members to form judgments about teammates' trustworthiness and eventually created team trust (Boies, Fiset, & Gill, 2015, p. 1083). Healthy communication between team members influences the emergence of trust, providing a foundation upon which team members feel free to share knowledge, explore, and contribute (Boies et al., 2015). Teams, in which trust is high, outperform teams in which trust is low. The results of the study showed that trust could be fostered by openness of communication among leadership and team members (Boies et al., 2015, p. 1083).

The Boies et al. (2015) study supports the contention that increased communication helps establish a culture of trust and buy-in. The results further suggest that inspirational motivation and intellectual stimulation may serve to create a more open and accepting group climate where members are free to put forth new ideas and speak freely about important tasks, ultimately building trust and creating a willingness to buy-in to a unified vision.

However, healthy communication is more than providing team members with important information. People on the team must believe that senior leadership is willing to listen to their opinions and consider their interests in decision making (Boies et al., 2015, p. 1090). Teams are more willing to embrace leadership’s vision and goals, when they believe their own opinions have been heard and their interests considered. As a leader, you have a great opportunity to establish team unity by implementing open communication and establishing a culture of trust. 

2. A Fair Decision Making Process Builds Consensus

Today’s teams bring together a diverse array of stakeholders to work collaboratively on common issues. Such a diverse membership, however, can pose significant challenges, such as different goal orientations and competing interests that impede efforts to coordinate efforts in an effective manner (Hearld, Alexander, Bodenschatz, Louis, & O'Hora, 2013). Therefore, a foundational activity of effective teams is establishing consensus regarding their vision, goals, and strategies for achieving these goals (Hearld et al, 2013). Building consensus among your team is necessary to increase participation and enhance effectiveness. Consensus on vision, mission, and key issues provides a platform for mobilization and sustained momentum on team activities (Herald et al, 2013).

A study by Hearld, Alexander, Bodenschatz, Louis, and O'Hora (2013) sought out to evaluate consensus building among diverse alliance teams. Their study demonstrated that member perceptions of fairness in alliance decision-making processes were associated with the perceived level of consensus among team members (Herald et al., 2013). For an organization to be effective, leadership must obtain consensus regarding the alliance vision and consensus regarding its strategy (Herald et al., 2013). Vision is “the sense of purpose that an organization defines for itself” and strategy relates to the “decisions and tactical approaches that an organization adopts to achieve specific organizational objectives” (Herald et al., 2013, p. 141). Vision consensus is critical for your team, in order to establish a shared identity among the team members that transcends their own individual identities, provides a criterion against which to judge different proposed courses of action, and establishes and sustains support from the individual team members (Herald et al., 2013). Strategy consensus is a key element for your team as it relates to the adoption and implementation of specific initiatives that are used to make the larger vision a reality (Herald et al., 2013). 

The Herald et al. (2013) findings indicate that perceptions of decision-making fairness play an important role in building consensus among team members. Their quantitative analysis found that perceptions of fairness were significantly associated with the perceived level of consensus and that these relationships existed for decisions related to both vision and strategy (Herald et al., 2013). According to their qualitative results, fair decision-making processes seem to be especially important for building consensus because they help nurture a culture of exchange among alliance members that fosters trust and members’ beliefs that their ideas will be treated respectfully (Herald et al., 2013). This kind of open communication is important for your team also, as it allows team members to work through issues collectively, promoting member buy-in, and sustaining support for decisions over the long term (Herald et al., 2013). Open communication further helps sustain consensus by identifying potential conflicts in early discussions, preventing minor conflicts from escalating into major fall-outs that may derail the entire decision-making process (Herald et al., 2013, p. 154). One of the ways that you can enhance perceptions of consensus is to cultivate fairness by using decision-making processes that are transparent and inclusive. This is achieved by formalizing the decision-making process and by engaging key team members early in decision-making processes (Herald et al., 2013).

In order for you to obtain consensus among your team members, remember to utilize open communication for trust building, and also implement transparent and inclusive decision making processes that lead your team members to conclude the process was fair to all involved. Communication, trust, and transparent decision-making should help you win the hearts of those on your team and unify the organization to a common vision buy-in.

-Brent Daub, Senior Partner at Gilson Daub, Inc.

References:

Boies, K., Fiset, J., & Gill, H. (2015). Communication and trust are key: Unlocking the relationship between leadership and team performance and creativity. The Leadership Quarterly, 26(6), 1080-1094. 

Hearld, L. R., Alexander, J. A., Bodenschatz, L., Louis, C. J., & O'Hora, J. (2013). Decision-making fairness and consensus building in multisector community health alliances: A mixed-methods analysis. Nonprofit Management & Leadership, 24(2), 139-161.

 

Jon Phillips

Gilson Daub, Inc., 34270 Pacific Coast Highway, Dana Point, CA, 92629