close knit team

How to build a close-knit team, according to a social scientist

For organisations in pursuit of creating a winning team culture, something that quickly becomes apparent is whether or not their teams are ‘close’.

But what does it mean to have a close-knit team, and is it even possible? In today’s article Bec Jeffrey, our Learning Design Strategist will be sharing her social science spin on the world of teams.

Ready to dive into this juicy topic? Keep on reading.


Why are some teams closer than others?

Have you ever wondered why some teams seem to get along great, while others can’t stand to be around one another a minute longer than they have to be?

Is there a way that leaders can build a culture of closeness, not just so that work is more enjoyable, but so that better work is performed? What are the essential elements that create a close team?

The answers to these questions are the basis of our Great Team Framework program. From our study of high performing teams, there are three elements that go into creating close-knit, highly productive teams.


What close-knit teams have in common:


#1: Close-knit teams have a team identity

The basis of all great teams is the existence of a shared team identity.

Teams who know exactly what defines them as a group and can tell you why they exist, ultimately perform better. Such teams don’t just tell you what they do, they enjoy telling you why they do it because they personally feel connected to the reasons they exist.

The team’s common purpose aligns with the individuals’ own personal values. Teams like this are more willing to dig deeper into conversations and commit to constantly evolving because they have a personal stake in the work being successful. They find deep personal meaning in it and so ultimately, want the team to succeed.

A great example of a team like this is the story of La Marzocco coffee machine makers as described in Simon Sinek’s book, ‘Start With Why’. Here, Sinek describes the way the people at La Marzocco rally around their purpose, “To build relationships so that we enrich the lives of others”.

They understand that they do more than make coffee machines; they promote a vehicle (coffee) to enrich lives and allow people to connect. A meaning like this brings people alive. It speaks to the human spirit in all of us and in so doing, makes the hours we dedicate at work, takes on a whole new dimension. This meaning has led the La Marzocco group to build social initiatives where the excellence of their machines are promoted, but more importantly, a strong community is built.

This shared identity unites their workers under a common purpose and is a powerful example of a great team having a clear identity.


#2: Close-knit teams share common goals

The second element of great teams is how they relentlessly pursue common goals. Something important to note here is that the goals are known; they’re all striving together to make progress and see it through, and the goals include relational goals; goals that push them to turn up as a better team.

The beauty of team goals is that it requires individuals to rely on each other; collaborate and have trust in one another. This shared drive builds closeness.

Goal setting for teams can be made more effective through visualising the goals on a whiteboard or wall and referring to them often. By doing this teams will be more focussed and have a clear picture of what success looks like. It seems simple, but sadly few companies do this visualisation well.

Team goals should be more than just business-as-usual goals. If you want to create close-knit teams, encourage them to set goals that support the community or greater vision. Goals should also draw on the strengths of the whole team; utilising each unique strength of the individuals in the group. This is when magic can truly turn up in the collective.


#3: Close-knit teams are each other’s biggest fans

The final element in creating a successful, close-knit team lies in being each other’s biggest fans. It’s one of our core values at Pragmatic Thinking and it’s something we truly believe in.

Teams that enjoy closeness genuinely care for each other. They can tell you the names of the people in their team members world, outside of work. They know the names of spouses, partners, parents or children. They are genuinely interested in the lives of their teammates and find rituals to enable this connection.

Maybe those rituals are “walk and talks” around the block, maybe they’re Friday drinks or Monday breakfasts. Whatever it takes to make relationships work in their context, great teams find ways to connect. Teams that want to be closer should commit to having regular conversations that are relational and not just about work. Sometimes, not even about work at all.

Close-knit teams share laughs, encouraging words and engage in random acts of kindness for their teammates. They also look each other in the eye when they are talking and build trust through connection.

In teams that are each-others biggest fans, there is an absence of bullying, or talking about people with malice behind their backs. There is no politics or game playing. Teams that genuinely care for each other as described here are teams who can buffer the stress and strains the work world can bring and continue to bounce back and find resilience. This sense of connection and positive regard unites a group like nothing else.


Is there a correlation between team closeness and productivity?

Project Aristotle by Google proved that psychological safety was the number one dynamic that most impacted the effectiveness of a team.

There are other studies that prove that morale (another way to understand team closeness) is a high impactor on performance. Here’s a thesis paper on this topic.

The interesting thing to unpack here is what does closeness mean? Perhaps your definition is that they can laugh together, they enjoy high levels of psychological safety or that they have shared values and treat each other with kindness. Or maybe it’s the absence of negative dynamics like gossip and secrecy.


What’s an effective way to assess whether your team are ‘close-knit’ or not?

  • Are they having real conversations that address the tough stuff, or are they only talking about the fun times or the easy stuff?
  • Do they know the names of the family members of their teammates, or could describe the interests and lifestyle of their people outside of work?
  • Do they feel safe at work? For example, do feel they can speak without fear of being reprimanded?
  • Do they feel safe to make mistakes, apologise and go again?
  • Do they enjoy laughs together and want to share meals together?
  • Are they having conversations that are not just work-related?
  • Do they challenge each other, in a safe way, to be better at what they do if standards slip?
  • Do they protect the culture of the team by being willing to call out behaviour that undermines the whole, like gossip etc? Is this being done from within the ranks and not just initiated by leadership?
  • Are they considerate of their team members about the small things, like the temperature of the aircon, whether they replaced the milk in the lunch-room fridge, the music the office listens to, or returned the resource they used back to their place? While these things may seem small, they are signs of respect that are in important in building trust and ultimately, cultivating a close-knit team.


Question Time: What difference would it make to your experience of work if you were twice as close to the people you work with on a daily basis?

Would it make you better at what you do? Would it make your experience of coming to work even more satisfying and enriching?

Maybe it would even give you more capacity to weather the harder days. Ponder this and if you are interested to know more, stay tuned.

We’ll be diving deeper into the science behind team dynamics and team culture in future blogs, so be sure to check back in a little while for more goodness. To be notified of future blogs make sure to follow Pragmatic Thinking on LinkedIn.