Watching the Australian cricket team take a clean sweep over England in the recent Ashes series I couldn’t help but notice some impressive team dynamics.  In the field players would support each other with hi-fives or pats on the back regularly (almost after every ball).  There were great celebrations at every wicket.  At the crease upon each fifty or century the group were attentive, stood up, and applauded the achievement.  In press conferences Michael Clarke and Darren Lehmann had no hesitation to praise the efforts of their team rather than focusing too much on the result.  The team song that came out on the pitch after the final test was a great indication they had worked hard on establishing unity.

Team Unity
All teams can establish this kind of unity if they go about it the right way.  Team unity starts with solid foundations of team identity and culture.  The following tips can help facilitate the process of developing team identity and culture to ultimately achieve unity and success.

Establish group values
By agreeing on team values (e.g., professionalism, loyalty, support) you develop expectations of the group.  Everyone has a shared responsibility to adhere to these values on and off the park.
•    Try to agree on no more than 2-3 values to keep it simple and avoid confusion.
•    The entire group should be included in the decision-making process, including coaching and support staff. This will help to re-enforce accountability amongst the entire group.  Do not limit this decision making process to the players.

Establish expectations
It is important everyone understands HOW to adhere to these values.  For example, if the team has agreed on ‘professionalism’ as a group value.  It is no good to simply say we are going to be professional.  What does ‘being professional’ entail?  How do we know when we are being professional?   You might break it down to simple behaviours such as, being on time for training and matches, or wearing the correct attire before and after matches.
•    Agree on the expectations associated with the team values.
•    Know and understand HOW to adhere to the values and what to expect from each other.

Reinforce expectations
Perhaps the most important step.  Too often I hear of teams establishing what they want to be as a playing group, only to have them break down as the season goes on making expectations irrelevant and meaningless, and occasionally leading to conflict within the group.  It is the responsibility of EVERYONE to reinforce these expectations (even when times are tough).
•    Discuss and agree on ways in which individuals within the team can reinforce expectations.
•    Review as often as possible: find time (i.e., at least once per week) to discuss with the playing group if they are adhering to expectations.  This may only take 5 minutes, however can be a vital step to help reinforce and engage the group.
•    Reward those that demonstrate team values, as agreed on by the group.

Be critical
It is okay to criticise a member of the group for not adhering to expectations, it is not okay to criticise if they make an attempt and are unsuccessful.  Understand the difference.  This is not so relevant to values such as professionalism.   A more relevant value might be the team value of ‘cooperation’.  Expectations here might be percentage play.  In the event of an opportunity to pass to someone in a better position and they fail to do so, it is okay to be critical. If the person makes an attempt and is unsuccessful it is not okay to be critical.  The way in which individuals criticise is also important.  Letting frustrations boil over may be counter-productive, explaining to the player where they went wrong and looking at how they might improve next time is a better way to respond to the situation.

Celebrate!
Celebrating your successes as a team can help to unite the group and provide motivation to continue.  Cheering, hi-fives, singing a team song, or organising social gatherings can be effective ways to acknowledge and recognise your successes.

One final point: Always remember in a group setting, it is almost impossible to avoid conflict at one time or another.  There will be ups and downs, it is how these are managed that is important.

For further information on the development of team identity and culture get in contact with one of the Mental Notes Consulting sport psychologists.  We have sport psychologists located in Perth, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Singapore, and London!