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Team Chemistry – Careful what you wish for

As I sat here pondering some of the off-season topics and buzzwords that have kept us entertained over the last 9 months, I stumbled over one buzzword that always makes me cringe when I read it: Team Chemistry.

I cringe because it's a one-size-fits-all argument that is liberally tossed around, sounds good as a sound bite and suggests an insider understanding of team dynamics, but is a simplistic concept at best and rarely fully understood.

Last season, the Cowboys' poor play and constant locker room drama was often blamed on the lack of team chemistry, and T.O was quickly singled out as a 'locker room cancer', reducing a simplistic concept even further and giving it a mass media compatible spin.

Jerry is on record saying he firmly believes team chemistry is a by-product of the team's success, directly correlated to the number of wins in a season. Quoth the Skelator: "I've experienced locker rooms that look dysfunctional on the face of it and won world championships. In a pecking order of important things about your team, that is very low on the list."

So who's right? And does team chemistry have anything to do with performance?

Can't we all just get along?

Most of us are products of an education/belief/political system that variously places harmony over conflict, measures success through achieving consensus and/or values parity over individual achievement.

As a result, a ridiculous myth is pervading society, where popular wisdom dictates that you produce better results in a harmonious working environment, that teams with strong personal friendships work better, that if everybody would just get along better everything will be ok. When that poisoned chalice of popular wisdom is handed to you, I urge you: Think before you drink!

There is an abundance of literature available that shows that the alternative to conflict is usually not agreement but apathy and disengagement, that harmony and good decision making are often polar opposites and that without conflict, groups often lose their effectiveness.

The trick here is to move beyond the notion that all teammates have to be friends and channel group dynamics - that occur when members of the team work together - into a united effort to accomplish the goals and objectives of the whole team.

Team Chemistry or Team Cohesion

The most common distinction in group dynamics made by behavioral scientists in social and sport psychology is between task cohesion and social cohesion.

Task cohesion refers to the shared commitment among team members to achieving a goal that requires the collective efforts of the team. A team with high task cohesion is composed of members who share a common goal and who are motivated to coordinate their efforts as a team to achieve that goal. For example, when we say that Romo and Roy Williams 'are on the same page' we are effectively stating that they possess a high degree of task cohesion.

Social cohesion refers to the nature and quality of the emotional bonds of friendship, liking, caring, and closeness among team members. A team displays high social cohesion to the extent that its members like each other, prefer to spend their social time together, enjoy each other's company, and feel emotionally close to one another – or start a band called Free Reign.

Social cohesion, in other words, refers to whether group members like each other, while task cohesion refers to whether they share the same goals.

Many studies, both military and civilian, concluded that it is task cohesion — not social cohesion or group pride — that drives group or team performance. Specifically, if a team has a high level of task cohesion, meaning that they play well together and remain united in the pursuit of the team's goals, then they are more likely to enjoy success.

Social cohesion on the other hand - an admirable team quality and certainly good for many players' well-being - has not been shown to have a positive correlation with team success.

Where do we stand?

I am excited to see how Phillips has emphasized accountability over this off-season. Task cohesion and accountability go hand in hand. They're both about setting the expectation, clearly communicating it, and then holding yourself and everyone within your sphere of influence responsible for the outcomes expected of you, both good and bad.

Exhibits A, B and C: A stiffer fine system for reporting overweight. Stressing the importance of getting things 'exactly right' in practice. Yanking players from reps for false starts and other mistakes, heck, even Witten got yanked for false starts in the Alamodome.

Task cohesion is also about making the right personnel decisions for the team, and not playing favorites. Scandrick/Jenkins are a good example, where both appear to be so good that both will play. Stanback is another one, where Ogletree simply outplayed him (or simply stayed healthy). Bobby Carpenter though - don't know how to explain that one.

Social cohesion on the other hand, I couldn't care less about. Typically this is the 'human interest angle' that reporters try to pounce on to give their reports more 'color'. Scandrick/Jenkins are a good example here as well. It seems that in almost every interview I've seen with any of these guys, some numbnut will ask a question like "How has this competition affected your friendship/personal relationship?".

WHO CARES? As long as they both continue trying to become the best CBs in the NFL they could send each other pink colored love letters for Valentines Day for all I care.

With this happy thought, I'll stop my ranting and get back to work.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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