Here are the top four qualities found in successful sports teams that translate to a cohesive work team. Does your team have them?

sports teams can teach us a lot about team cohesion

“The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.” – Babe Ruth

Have you ever watched your favorite sports team suffer through a rough game, and it’s blatantly obvious that they just aren’t in sync with one another? And then, on the other side of that coin, can you recall the moment you saw a team achieve greatness? Maybe it was when the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team won the World Cup in 2015, or most recently, when the Chicago Cubs won the World Series?

When individuals come together and become one, it is a magical experience; beautiful things happen. And that’s what team cohesion looks like. Although cohesive teams share many qualities, among the most significant are:

  • Respect
  • Trust
  • Adversity-Proof
  • Fun
Qualities of Cohesive Teams

I’ve participated in several team sports throughout my life, including speed skating and collegiate lacrosse. And while all of my collective athletic experiences have taught me valuable lessons, I learned the most about what makes a team successful – or leads to disaster  – from one sport in particular: adventure racing. In fact, I can relate the top qualities of cohesive business teams directly to my own experience.

Respect.  What is respect, exactly? It’s a feeling of deep admiration for someone elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements. In my racing team, we all knew that every single individual brought their own achievements and abilities to the table. And that was key, because when you’re enduring 24 – sometimes 48 – hours of grueling competition (often in pain), you must know your teammates are up to the challenge, aren’t going to quit, and will do whatever it takes to perform.

With business teams, you’re going to spend hours upon hours working together, and it’s not always going to be easy. When you know and appreciate all the talent and skills in the room, you can feel confident that each individual will help meet goals, give it their best and rise to the challenge.

Trust. Team members must know that they have each other’s backs. In sports and in business, you simply can’t compete if you haven’t done the necessary training and development for the competition or project. Trust comes when individuals are holding up their end of the bargain and not only meeting individual expectations, but then also supporting others and presenting a united front, no matter what.  

Adversity-Proof. Anytime you have a group of people together in the same room, there’s eventually going to be conflict and adversity. You’ll argue about approaches, decisions … and in my racing team’s case, even food! There will be outbursts, disputes and flaring tempers. This is normal and should be expected. The key is to survive them (and then thrive) by discerning what is at the core of the problem. Is someone just having a bad day? Are there pent up frustrations stemming from a bigger, unaddressed issue? Once you know what the real issue is, you have to be able to recover, move on and focus on the goals or tasks at hand.

Fun. No matter what you’re doing, if it’s never any fun, you won’t want to keep doing it. Think about the post-game rituals that athletes participate in, from the uncorking of the champagne in the locker room to the ice-cold beverage dumping on the coach after a victory. Without fun, morale plummets, frustrations rise, and individuals withdraw from the united effort, which leads to fragmentation.  Teams of any kind must be able to laugh with each other, celebrate successes (no matter how small), and enjoy the process along the way.

What Else Can We Learn From Team Sports?

There’s so much we can learn from successful sports teams that can be applied to business teams. While I’ve touched on my top four qualities of cohesive teams, I’d love to hear about  yours. What additional qualities do high-performing sports teams exhibit? And what do you think are the most important qualities that make business teams cohesive? Please tell us all about your experiences and suggestions – leave your thoughts below.  

A passionate coach, facilitator and speaker with nearly 20 years in Corporate America, Deseri implements creative, experiential and personalized programs that challenge, motivate and transform clients. Her tireless pursuit of possibility gets results – tangible, solid, proof-of-purchase outcomes.