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The Power of Cohesion in High Performance

The Power of Cohesion in High Performance

The four British rowers sit motionless in their boat at the starting line for the Coxless Fours final. It is 23rd September 2000 and the International Regatta Centre in Sydney is lined with cheering spectators. They are there to cheer the home team, but the Australians are not the favourites. That pressure is on the team from Great Britain, with six Olympic Gold Medals between them.

Four of them belong to Steve Redgrave. The leader of the British team intensely dislikes the moniker - the Redgrave Four , that has been thrust upon them, but this is not the time to dwell on it. The only thought in his mind is that they must work as a team so that all their dreams can come true - his dream of a fifth, Matthew Pinsent’s third, and James Cracknell and Tim Fosters’ first - mates who are yet to experience the emotional high of watching the flag rise as ‘God Save the Queen’ drowns out the cheers. 

The Coxless Fours is a special race. Each boat has four rowers. Each rower has one oar and rows on only one side. It is a sweep rowing event in the sport’s parlance. It requires each and every person to be in sync. In his book Inspired, Redgrave talks about his thoughts as he sits there that day: ‘Teamwork - how utterly reliant we are on one another. If one man in six minutes, 2,000 kilometres, 240 back-breaking, muscle screaming strokes, fails, quite literally, to pull his weight, the dream for all of us dies.’ 

5 minutes 56.24 seconds later, the Gold is theirs. It has been a long journey. ‘Four years through friction, experiments, trauma, in sickness and in health,’ is how Redgrave describes it. In the end what it has come down to, is the power of Cohesion. And it is cohesion that brings together a group of individuals in the pursuit of Excellence and elevates them to a High Performing Team.

The Rolling Stones have been playing together for 60-years. And yet, even today when Mick Jagger and his fellow band members go on tour, they commit to getting together for two months of practice. They appreciate the opportunity to reconnect with their collective rhythm. The practice enables the band to perform with almost telepathic communication.

While in most rock bands the guitarist follows the lead of the drummer, the Stones flipped that relationship — Keith Richards, the guitarist, led the attack, with the late Charlie Watts (and the rest of the band) following. Richards once said that he knows exactly what’s happening by simply watching Watts’ left hand. If the tempo ever dragged, one glance from Richards to Wood, and together they stepped up the pace. It is this Cohesion that has made the Stones so enduringly magical over an incredible six decades.

Research shows that surviving adversity together, fast tracks trust, team creativity, and cohesiveness that long survives the negative experience. And it is not just theory, for I am living testimony to its efficacy.The best performing teams I led were the ones where Cohesion came from fighting adversity together and prevailing as a unit.

In the mid 2000's I took charge of a banking business that barely covered its cost. It was a small spoke in a large global wheel for the bank. Most of the existing team members were secure in their individual comfort zones. I had to rebuild that team almost entirely. Together we innovated a new business model, faced up to market adversities and established competition. In the end, the difficult journey we embarked on together made us a resilient, cohesive unit, that embraced challenges. And then we overcame them. We became a truly high performing team, and in a short period of four years, the most profitable business in Asia for the bank.

Why do I speak about cohesiveness today? Because, along with all the personal loss and mental health issues it has caused, COVID has given businesses a unique opportunity. You, the 2022 leader, do not need to do what I was forced to, two decades ago. A pandemic has dropped on your lap an opportunity to build positive momentum on the back of a negative experience. Your team may not realise it yet, so help them identify and embrace the Cohesiveness. Their journey to High Performance begins here.

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