Harmony Does Not Equal Performance

Harmony feels good. Everyone enjoys it when the vibe in the locker room feels positive and connected. However, there is a trap that can exist on teams with strong social bonds. People don’t want to speak hard truth for the risk of disrupting the good feelings.

As much as we would all prefer a harmonious environment, the purpose of team culture is not to make you feel good, it is to produce results. We should be teaching our athletes how to appropriately confront behaviors that are not aligned with the outcomes we are striving for.

Relevant to this, it’s important to remember that in team sports, your position is challenged daily. Competition is part of the game. In his book, There is an I in Team, Mark DuRond shows how there is a risk of stifling competition for the sake of promoting interpersonal harmony,

“Rivalries do not miraculously vanish. Instead, they go underground, meaning that team members begin to compete by manipulation or by belittling or even sabotaging the efforts of those around them.”

Social cohesion vs. Task Cohesion

Social cohesion refers to the quality of emotional bonds between members of a group.
Task cohesion refers to the commitment of a group to achieving a common goal. 

The paper, “Unit Cohesion and the Military Unit”, out of the University of California, Davis, shows when social cohesion is too high, it can have a negative impact on group decision-making. Task cohesion appears to be more important to performance. 

A worthwhile question to consider: does social cohesion lead to success or does success lead to social cohesion? 


On every team I have coached, players have stated that they value accountability and they want their teammates to hold each other accountable.

In reality, this rarely happens. Confronting someone is an uncomfortable interaction for most people. It is difficult for athletes to have the courage, emotional intelligence, and social skill to pull this off. Especially for athletes that primarily communicate electronically in the course of their daily life.

We are asking them to step outside their comfort zone so we have to help them with tools on how to appropriately navigate these situations. To have a chance, the players need to have a clear, shared understanding of what acceptable and unacceptable actions are in various situations. For example, in the locker room, at practice, on the bench/sideline.

On the Way of Champions podcast, host John O’Sullivan speaks with Mark Bennett about strategies to do help athletes take ownership in living and upholding the team culture. I have used this conversation as inspiration in my coaching. It’s well worth your time.

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