Filed under: Teams
When it was first announced that lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) service members could openly serve in the military, some suggested unit cohesion—how teammates unite, stick together, and remain close—would suffer. Others wondered whether missions would be successful and if straight service members would be comfortable sharing bathrooms and showers with their LGB peers.
Since the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) in 2011, there’s been little evidence to suggest negative effects on unit cohesion or the military’s ability to carry out missions. Similarly, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has observed no changes in military performance or unit cohesion since it began allowing gays and lesbians to openly serve in 1993. Shared dedication to a mission enhances performance and builds unit cohesion.
Since the repeal of DADT, LGB service members can serve without fear of being harassed or discharged. This enables them to fully devote their attention to their jobs. It’s possible the repeal also will help reduce rates of substance abuse and mental health struggles among LGB service members because they might no longer endure the stigma and stress from hiding their sexual orientation. In addition, straight service members report feeling comfortable working alongside their LGB teammates.
Read more about the DoD policies on sexual orientation and gender identity in HPRC’s Sex, Sexuality, & Intimacy FAQs section and about sex and the military on our Sex, Sexuality, & Intimacy Resources page.
While initiation activities have long been a part of military culture, group aggression and hazing contradict the values of dignity and respect championed by the Armed Forces. Group aggression and hazing can put service members at risk of injury and impact team unity.
Aggression is behavior—including any action taken or situation created—that intends to cause harm to someone who doesn’t want to be harmed. Group aggression is the active use of violence by one group against another group. Hazing is an example of group aggression: It’s the act of forcing new team members to endure unsafe, painful, or embarrassing rituals as part of their initiation into a group. Victims experience physical and emotional abuse that goes beyond military-sanctioned ceremonies that build team commitment.
Group aggression is more common than individual aggression. It’s possible that when people feel they’re less identifiable, they’re more likely to be aggressive. For example, you blend in with your teammates and your group might collectively take the blame for any one act—which can feel less punitive then being punished on your own. In addition, aggression often provokes even more bad behavior within groups. Hazing might go unnoticed in the military partly due to its internal hierarchy that can make it hard to identify such hostile acts.
Hazing and group aggression don’t always improve cohesion, bonding, or commitment among teammates. And some victims are at risk of physical trauma, psychological abuse, and even death.
Strong teams are based on respect and dignity, where members feel supported and empowered. Team building should lead to pride in your group and integrity among its members.
Learn more about the different branch policies:
Team goals matter—whether you’re serving your unit, making decisions as a family, or coaching sports. There are a lot of factors that can lead to your group’s success or failure too. Your group’s cohesiveness—or ability to remain united while pursuing your objectives—can make all the difference as your team works to achieve its goals.
Cohesiveness has other advantages too: Those who get along socially or work well together benefit from improved job satisfaction and overall well-being. Here are some tips to help build and maintain team/unit cohesion.
- When you’re in charge, be sure to set clear, achievable goals for the whole group. And encourage teammates to set their own goals too.
- Communicate clearly: Give clear expectations for roles, performance, and deadlines—and offer praise.
- Minimize conflict and build trust by showing interest and concern for each other.
- Value connections within the team as well as between units and organizations.
- Focus on your group’s strengths, not just its problems and challenges.
- Build resilience at individual and group levels.
Sometimes personal goals interfere with the group’s success, causing its performance to suffer. When individuals set goals that contribute to the group’s overall purpose, bigger successes follow. Make sure your personal goals fit into the “bigger picture” of your team’s success.
Setting team goals is even more important for leaders. Teammates often take cues from their leader, whether he or she is a commanding officer, parent, or coach. Effective leaders—especially those who focus on the group’s mission—help their groups define clear aims and set important personal goals as well.
Set your own goals to help your team succeed. And when you’re in charge, share your “big picture” goals with the group!
Your team wins when you have a good attitude, manage your emotions, and care about your teammates. But your team can break down, especially when members let their talents or controlling ways interfere with reaching team goals.
What individual traits make a team stronger? Managing your emotions can make you a better teammate, unite your group, and help your team thrive. People who deal with their emotions well are often good “team players” because they tend to listen openly to other points of view. And they’re less likely to feel threatened when wrong.
With emotions in check, you’re more likely to be cooperative and open to resolving conflict, instead of avoiding it. Just one team member with a negative outlook can affect the whole team, while those with a “can do” attitude can improve atmosphere and team performance.
What individual traits break down a team? Teammates rely on each other for the team’s overall success, but those with too much talent can break down a team. Teams don’t function well when talent—from one or a select few—dominates the group.
That’s why cohesiveness is essential to solid teamwork. If individuals try to dominate, unity breaks down and can cause arguments over authority. Teams become weaker when members are more concerned with advancing themselves and undermining their teammates, interfering with reaching the common goal.
How do your traits impact your unit? How do they affect your family? Check out HPRC’s Mental Resilience and Family Resilience sections and learn how to become a more effective team member—at work and home.