Five Tips To Reinforce Unit Cohesion
Unit cohesion provides service members with a natural support network during deployment and when returning home.1,2 A cohesive unit is one whose members share a strong bond, loyalty and commitment to each other and the mission.3 Simply put, having strong social ties to unit members and leaders supports a unit’s combat readiness. In this article, learn how you, the line leader, can build unit cohesion and promote your unit’s resilience.
Understanding Unit Cohesion
There are four key relationships that support unit cohesion:4
- Service member to service member. Service members trust each other, work well as a team and support one another through mission hardships.
- Service member to leader. Service members train well with their leader and feel like they can trust him or her to provide help coping with personal stressors when needed.
- Service member to unit. Service members are proud of their work and feel they play an important part in accomplishing their unit's mission; or service members understand what is expected of them and feel they have opportunities to better themselves.
- Service member to community. Service members must understand they are not alone. Frequent social connection with family, friends and peers should be encouraged. In addition to in-person interaction, service members can stay connected by communicating through email, video chat or online communities such as Facebook or Twitter.
Managing Personnel in DistressLearn tips on how to identify warriors who may be in distress and how to help them return to full mission readiness by reading the Real Warriors Campaign article, “Tools for Line Leaders Managing Personnel in Distress.”
As a line leader, you can build cohesion in your unit by following the five tips below. By promoting unity early on, you will improve your unit’s combat readiness and its members’ resilience.
- Prepare your unit to deploy. Keep your service members focused on the mission – not on problems back home.1 Keep them engaged with the tasks at hand. Encourage your unit to use the resources below and share them with their families.
- Spend time developing camaraderie. Leaders are more effective when they encourage and emphasize the group dynamic.
- Coordinate group meals and outings before, during and after your deployment when possible
- Promote group activities like exercise to build connections
- Build trust by listening to the experiences of the men and women in your group to get to know them personally and professionally
- Dispel rumors by keeping service members and families regularly and completely informed. Establish firm policies about addressing rumors, true or false, to prevent morale setbacks - once a rumor is exposed, it loses its negative impact on the mission5
- Allow your unit to grow as a team. Line leaders should create an environment that allows unit members to use their existing skills and learn new ones.
- Allow service members to develop their individual skills, as appropriate, which in turn can develop group cohesion and enhance overall unit performance3, 6
- Express and vocalize confidence in your unit members3
- Give clear directions when delegating tasks
- Find opportunities for personnel to learn new skills
- Strive for effective leadership. Lead by example and direct subordinates in a respectful manner.
- Maintain respect by encouraging teamwork and remaining approachable as well as respectful of others4
- Be aware and receptive to personal matters, including family concerns, and encourage personnel to keep their families regularly informed with unit activities when possible
- Demonstrate your service’s core values whether Army, Air Force or Navy or Marine Corps
- Pay attention to and address stressors. By addressing stressors promptly, line leaders demonstrate leadership and support their unit’s morale. Here are signs of stress to look for:
- The unit faces intense hardships and lives are consistently on the line
- Mission obstacles prevent the unit from being successful
- Multiple deployments or extensions increase time away from home
- Rumors spread among the unit members or the unit's family support groups
- Service members cannot identify with the mission or its objectives
- Members of the unit are unable to bond with their leader
- Certain members of the unit are treated differently than others
The level of connection, trust and support that service members have in their unit is the best predictor on how well stressors are handled.7 As a line leader, you play an important role in your unit by guiding and encouraging your service members as well as acting by example. As you implement the tips to reinforce unit cohesion and strengthen your group’s resilience, remember there are support resources available to you and your service members to help you cope during deployment and reintegration at home. Reaching out for help early is a sign of strength and shows your commitment to unit cohesion.
- Airman's Guide to Assisting Personnel in Distress (Air Force)
- Leadership in Action: Strategies for Distress Prevention and Management [PDF 50 KB] (Army)
- The Leaders Guide for Managing Marines in Distress (Marines)
- Navy Leader’s Guide for Managing Sailors in Distress (Navy)
- Combat and Operational Stress Control Manual for Leaders and Soldiers [PDF 749 KB]
1 "Leaders Guide for Managing Marines in Distress," Marine Corps Community Services. Last accessed May 24, 2012.
2 Street, Amy, et al. "A New Generation of Women Veterans: Stressors Faced by Women Deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan," [PDF 229 KB] Clinical Psychology Review. Published 2009.
3 "Unit Fitness," Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury. Published April 2011.
4 Smith, Monte, et al. "Pre- to Mid-deployment Assessment of Unit Focused Stability Impact on Cohesion," [PDF 368 KB] United States Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences. Published October 2006.
5 "The Emotional Cycle of Deployment: A Military Family Perspective," Hooah4Health. Last acessed May 24, 2012.
6 "A Leader’s Guide to Psychological Support Across the Deployment Cycle," [PDF 1.45 MB] North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Published October 2008.
7 "Combat and Operational Stress General Information," U.S. Army Medical Department Behavioral Health. Last accessed May 24, 2012.