The following is extracted from Dr. Coughlin’s research study on military resilience. As you read this information about building cohesion in a military unit, reflect on how these research findings and participant statements are applicable to building cohesion in other types of organizations.
Building cohesion fosters resilience in a military organization. Unit cohesion is a social construct that enables a military unit to work together towards accomplishing assigned missions. The study participants stated that small unit training was their primary means of building cohesion. Military units conduct small unit tactical training in preparation for combat operations. Small unit training requires military personnel to work in teams.
P1 remarked that cohesion is the result of “shared hardship and shared training”.
P2 emphasized that “training pulls a fighting unit together”.
P9 stated that on the battlefield, “good teams counteract the effects of adversity”.
The study participants noted that trust and mutual respect are the primary components of unit cohesion. Trust and mutual respect enable peer bonding among unit members at the same hierarchical level such as a squad, platoon, or company. In a military unit, being able to rely on your teammates builds trust and mutual respect. Teamwork serves as a measure of trust and mutual respect.
P1 described cohesion in a military unit as having “mutual respect, being invested in each other, and relying on the man to your left and your right”.
P5 explained, “you need a culture of resilience in the unit because we are only as brave as the unit we move with”.
P1 observed, “what enables individuals to overcome adversity in combat is the unit’s ability to overcome adversity in combat”.
The study participants mostly agreed that they wanted more time to train their units and build cohesion prior to their combat deployments. This time challenge was routinely complicated by the joining of new personnel to combat units during an already too-short training cycle. The integration of new personnel into existing teams is certain to disrupt group dynamics, at least temporarily.
P12 stated, “I had a really difficult time building cohesion because I got lots of [new] Marines just prior to deployment”.
P7 told his unit that “the best way to be a veteran is to bring a new guy in”.
P10 admitted, “I do not think I overcame the time challenge”.
P8 declared, “I blame the institution” for not providing enough time.
In addition to the peer bonding described above, the study participants said that leader bonding is also an important component of military group cohesion. Leader bonding takes place between seniors and subordinates at the unit level. The study participants noted that senior enlisted and officers joining the unit late in a training cycle is especially detrimental to the establishment of unit cohesion.
P11 declared, “getting leaders late in the training cycle was a nightmare”.
P2 kept most of his key leaders for a second combat deployment and “felt we were invincible” because “we all thought the same”.