Originally posted 2 November 2012 – Appropriate to various discussions on recent events.
Cohesion is talked about quite a bit these days in group circles among the Prepper/Patriot/Survivalist movement, and with good reason, for without cohesion, any group will most likely disintegrate at the first sign of trouble. Once trouble begins, or the SHTF with either a natural or man-made disaster (check out what’s going on in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey and New York to validate), cohesion will be the one characteristic that will help get you and your group through the trouble.
However, before we look at cohesion from the perspective of building and maintaining it, let’s define it. Dictionary.com puts it this way:
co·he·sion [koh-hee-zhuhn] noun
1. The act or state of cohering, uniting, or sticking together.
In the thesaurus tab of dictionary.com, these descriptors are provided:
Main Entry: Continuity noun
Synonyms: connection, constancy, continuance, continuousness, continuum, dovetailing, durability, duration, endurance, extension, flow, interrelationship, linking, perpetuity, persistence, prolongation, protraction, sequence, stability, stamina, succession, survival, train, uniting, unity, vitality, whole
Antonyms: break, discontinuity, intermittence, interruption, stoppage
The inclusion of the synonyms and antonyms is important to the discussion when determining what concepts, principles, and behaviors (individual and group) best develops, increases, and maintains cohesion, and conversely, what would inhibit its development or destroy existing cohesion.
Taking the definition provided and measuring against the positive and negative terms associated with “cohesion,” a reasonable person could conclude that any group activity that reinforces or adds to the capability of ‘sticking together’ in pleasant or adverse situations should be encouraged. Any activity that will lead to the discontinuity, interruption, stopped, or break in the group’s capability of ‘sticking together’ should be studiously avoided.
Simple enough, right?
First, the leader has to acknowledge a simple fact: The group is comprised of selfish individualists with egos. That’s fact; if you want to meet the most selfish person in the world, just look in the mirror. It’s part of our human nature, and we have to accept it and subordinate our own selfishness to navigate life in many aspects (think work, family, friends, etc).
Harsh description, but in most cases, very, very true.
Ego, undisciplined and unchecked, is, in fact, the worst enemy of cohesion that exists. It’s because, “I know better!” or “I don’t have to do anything YOU say!” or “I don’t like the way you put that” or “I should be the leader here!” or worse, the festering of feelings unspoken coupled with personal jealousies or other negative emotions, and then, at a critical moment a member of your group goes against what has been agreed upon “just because” and endangers the group or worse.
The descriptions can go on and vary considerably, but at the root of the problem, there’s a specific constant in all the statements above: “I”, “Me, and “My.”
To be sure, individuality is that which makes us who we are, personality wise. However, as thinking beings, we must subordinate the “I”, “Me”, “My” to the intent of the group and encourage and demonstrate only those behaviors which best put the group in the position to achieve its goals as much as possible within our personal limitations. In plain English, we must obey the agreed upon rules of conduct within the group and instructions given so long as we are able balanced against the morality and lawfulness of the rules and instructions.
The life cycle of dynamics encountered with any group cannot be ignored when considering building and maintaining cohesion, either. Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, and Exclusion all occur; it can’t be helped. The key is to negotiate those phases without damaging group cohesion. The first and fourth phases are the easiest for the group leader and members to build, maintain, and strengthen cohesion. Storming and Exclusion phases are the most difficult, because during the Storming phase, people will compete for various places in the psychological ‘pecking order’ and in the Exclusion phase, when someone leaves or is ejected from the group, people will seek to distance themselves from the person and may resort to the Storming phase again. In the Norming phase, the leader and the members will find that they are starting to see the results from attempts to build cohesion, but there will still be some bumps, as people do not always accept their ‘place’ in the group without some sort of difficulty.
Unreliability is another factor that impacts cohesion. When one or more members of a group cannot be counted on to participate in group activities (if they show up, it’s a surprise) or can’t be counted on to come prepared to group activities, or can’t be counted on to be making the required pantry preparations and use the group members as their ‘Plan B’, cohesion will most likely suffer as other group members start to form perceptions that the perpetually unprepared/late/no show member is depending on others to do his or her part.
Group leadership has a large part to play in the development, growth, and maintenance of cohesion to be sure, however, without the support and efforts of the group itself to assist the leader (whose only authority is moral, as given by the members), the leader will be significantly less effective or will fail outright in any attempts to develop cohesion.
Here are a few considerations for developing, increasing, and maintaining group cohesion:
- Have a baseline belief statement and/or Oath: This binds all members at the most basic level. Everyone is subject to the same ‘conditions of employment’ so to speak.
The leader must:
- Lead by example
- Recognize what each member brings to the table in terms of skills and abilities
- Recognize that each member has different task maturity (willingness and ability to perform tasks)
- Recognize that people work for reward, whether intrinsic or extrinsic, and that a compliment or recognition of work well done when warranted can have significant impact on the membership.
- Provide the framework for disciplining/correcting/modifying behavior that detracts from group cohesion.
- Never be afraid to admit mistakes or lessons learned to the group.
- Never take counsel of his or her own fears; reason, logic, and the input of group members will most likely provide the information with which the leader can make educated decisions best for the group.
- Treat each member with respect; never remind the group, ‘who’s in charge’.
- Provide the best instruction, or get the best instructors possible to present, on the tasks, skills and subjects the group members need to survive.
- Ensure communications and instructions are understandable.
- When asking for input, allow debate and discussion, and be willing to modify the objective provided the input gets the group to the desired outcome in a manner as thoroughly and efficiently as the concept being discussed.
- Be decisive.
- Delegate authority as necessary to members who’ve demonstrated they are capable of performing in the capacity under consideration.
- Understand the position serves the membership and not the other way ‘round.
Group members must:
- Understand their roles in developing their own skills and responsibility to not only themselves and their families, but to the group they’ve joined.
- Understand ‘the commander’s intent’ of instructions, training classes, and gatherings.
- Be willing to follow instructions, especially when the reasons behind them may not be understood, or the instructions conflict with the desires of one or more members, so long as the instructions are not unlawful or morally reprehensible.
- Treat the leadership with respect; never make the leader remind the group, ‘who’s in charge’.
- Understand and apply the knowledge that learning and skill improvement is the direct responsibility of the group member, and is directly proportionate to the amount of time and effort each group member puts into study and practice.
- Ask for clarification on any instruction not completely understood.
- Once a decision is made by the leader, follow it to the best of your own ability.
- Know that what is put into the group is directly proportionate to what is received as benefit from group membership.
While the above considerations aren’t all inclusive, they do provide a general framework in which the group can work and begin to develop, grow, and maintain cohesion.
So, look at your group and try to identify those behaviors that are growing cohesion and those that are detracting from it. Increase the former and remove the latter.
After a reasonable time, say 90 days, compare and contrast your group cohesion to what was and what is.
You might be pleasantly surprised.