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Chapter 9: Managing Work Teams towards better cohesion.

Humans find different ways to complete daily tasks – work-related or otherwise. Some are completed individually, while others require teamwork. In many situations, we find that working together with one or more person allows us to accomplish our goals far more efficiently.

This is a familiar experience for individuals of numerous professions, especially for the athletes. Not only is it the nature of many sports that implies teams, but as one of the best sport champions Michael Jordan said: Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships”.

The following article presents the importance of group cohesiveness, a topic discussed in Chapter 9, and team index as a measure “which reflects and weighs the ‘cohesion’ of a set of players based on their shared experiences over various time periods”.

The team index is used by Ben Darwin a former Australian rugby player to construct his theory on sport evolution. The former player, who now considers himself an outsider of the sport environment, emphasises expensiveness of the sport teams that are run these days. Part of his argument is that all these years of money leading the sport are over. He also claims that talent is the driving force as well as the importance of a coach. These three key components are considered to direct the teams to achieve better results can be converted to a more holistic way; the cohesion of a team/group.

He pleads towards relationships, human cooperation, understanding and level of trust that should the mantra of any group and teamwork involved. Darwin can quantify the aforementioned elements and developed the Teamwork Index which is used in his sport evolution theory. In his view we cannot separate “how teams work and how people work”.

The theory can be applied in his three year-development of a sport analytics firm called Gain Line Analytics. One of the predictions is based on the Teamwork Index, thus the application of his theory is picking the Super Rugby finalists – the  Lions and the Hurricanes. The Teamwork Index is a measure which reflects and weights the cohesion of a set of players based on their experiences over various time periods. These are three measures included in the final Teamwork Index, the long-term cohesion, which reflects the time players have spent playing together more than two years ago. Medium term cohesion reflects the time spent within two years and the final measure is in-season cohesion, which has the highest weighting.

Vital for the cohesion of the team in the measurements taken in the calculation is “the measurement of the understanding between people and the inputs to that understanding”.

Based on the global experience gained with Gain Line Analytics, Darwin and his team concluded that “money buys skill but not success, talent flourishes best in familiar environments and that greatness is built carefully and methodically”. He pointed as well that "Governance is the greatest driver of success, but boards get seduced by skill and what they see in other clubs".

Darwin sees the cohesion as a key element for success and explains the lack of cohesion that brought the gradual decline of Australian rugby. As mentioned earlier, the commercial side which governed the sport in the last year’s disadvantaged the Wallabies and many other teams. Franchising the team sport lead reduced cohesion in the groups and, as a result, reduced team performance. The Australian, New Zealand and South African teams could suffer a regression in their success compared with the northern hemisphere teams who understood that fewer teams bring a strength advantage.

Through the projects completed by Gain Line Analytics firm on English football, Darwin finds that the commercial focus of the last years meant the owners of clubs’ performance was exclusively based on acquiring skilled and talented staff in order to succeed. However, this approach didn’t last and English football found itself in a declining position. The focus was only on money leading to the best outcome in the disadvantage of coherent teamwork which will lead to sustainable success.

Darwin’s obsession with cohesion and data analytics led him to pursue the Teamwork Index and Sport Evolution Theory. It also helped him to understand that the norms and management can be applied to a sport team, can be used in corporations and other organisations, and be applied to the stock market.

Alongside Darwin’s conclusion that the insights of a successful sport figure can be transferred to the business environment, is a recent appointment of an England rugby union coach Eddie Jones as a Nomura Japanese Bank’s partner. The former rugby union coach will be in charge of leading client-facing team and share his wisdom and experience through the team to European clients of Nomura Bank.

Team cohesion implies trust and loyalty as the driving forces to long-term success. It is important to remember that being part of a team requires long-term commitment and dedication towards inclusion in a caring and strong collaborative group.

As a result of a supporting team and performing teamwork, a young Queensland Firebirds defender Kimberly Jenner, had a positive experience in her first pre-season. She believed she could not sustain a preseason without a well-glued team and that “playing as a team is way better than playing as individuals”.

The importance of responsible work contributed by everyone in the team is highlighted by Canberra cyclist, Gracie Elvin, who has become first Australian woman to podium at the Tour of Flanders after finishing second in Belgium's iconic road race. "I really didn't have to do much before the finish, everyone had a role to play and they did it brilliantly, especially Annemiek right at the end," Elvin said.

The main concepts that worth paying attention to are…

  • Team/Group cohesiveness
  • Teamwork


Consider the following questions for discussion…

  1. Based on Darwin’s theory on sport evolution and cohesion, how cohesive do you think Australian rugby teams are? And how do you think this cohesion (or lack of cohesion) affected their performance? Why?
  2. Is commercial focus in sport affecting team cohesion? How?
  3. Is short time spent together as a team affecting cohesion?
  4. Based on your experience as a group member, how important is the responsible equal contribution of each group member? Why?