Lead with the best version of yourself.

Building Cohesive and Effective Teams

by Mitch Butterworth

“It is not what [leaders] know or how bright they are that leads to success or failure; [rather] how well they work with others, and how well they understand themselves.” – R.J. Burke                                                                                                                       

The US Army relies on cohesive and effective teams (CET) to perform tasks, achieve objectives, and accomplish missions. To build CET, the Army relies on the concept of Army team building. Army team building helps teams to reach their collective goals through the application of leadership exercises, activities, and techniques. In this article, I will provide two examples of leadership activities or techniques designed to build CET. Those two examples are humble leadership and authentic leadership. 

Humble Leadership

The idea of applying humility to leadership and organizations was advanced by Jim Collins in his book Good to Great. It is important at this point to address the negative view often associated with humility or humble leadership. Humility or humble leadership is not poor self-esteem, passivity or meekness. Generally speaking, humble leaders are described as other-affirming, self-effacing, and people oriented. ADP 6-22 defines humility as a leader being unselfish and working towards something more important than themselves. 

What are the specific humble leadership behaviors that drive the building of cohesive and effective teams? 

There are three types of humble leadership behaviors (see ADP 6-22, 2-31). First is possessing self-awareness by acknowledging personal limits, faults, and mistakes. A simple way to lead humbly is to apologize when making a mistake. “Humble leaders,” writes leadership researcher Jeffrey A. Krames, “admit their own mistakes, and without blaming people or circumstances. They do not cover up mistakes but admit mistakes and move on.” Second, humble leaders highlight the contributions and strengths of others. A simple way to spotlight the contribution of others is by replacing the word “I” with “we.” Making use of first names in public to honor contributors to the success of a project is another effective tool employed by humble leaders. A third behavior is modeling openness to receiving new information. A simple way to receive new information is to get out to the field, ask questions, and listen more than you talk. In the book, Lead with Humility: 12 Leadership Lessons from Pope Francis, the author suggests one way Pope Francis models receiving new information is by getting close to ‘the customer.’ In other words, ‘management by walking around,’ or receiving new information from subordinates and customers, is an effective humble leadership behavior.

Why is humble leadership important for building CET? There is a positive relationship between humble leadership and team level effectiveness. Specifically, there is research showing as leader humility increases, work performance improves. 

Authentic Leadership  

The idea of applying authenticity to leadership and organizations was advanced by Bill George in True North: Discovering your Authentic Leadership. Generally speaking, authentic leaders are described as being self-aware, showing openness and clarity regarding who they are, and consistency in communicating and acting in accordance with their personal values, beliefs, motives, and sentiments.

What are the specific authentic leadership behaviors that drive the building of cohesive and effective teams? There are two types of authentic leadership behaviors. One behavior is relational transparency. Relational transparency is a leader openly sharing information, truly their thoughts and feelings. For example: “I appreciate the information, but I really see the issue in a different way.” 

According to Bill George, knowing one’s thoughts and feelings requires high levels of self-awareness. A second behavior is balanced processing of information while allowing others to challenge deeply held beliefs. For example: “You are correct in challenging the ability of our organization to follow through on that commitment.”

Why is authentic leadership important for building CET? There is a positive relationship between authentic leadership and team effectiveness. Specifically, the research shows a strong link between authentic leadership and improved task performance (specific or technical aspects associated with a job) in part from, applying balanced processing of information.


In closing, the critical question is: what should we do with this information? Here are a couple thoughts about application. First, consider the purpose of your team. If the purpose of your team is improved performance, improved training outcomes, or improved levels of innovation, then humble and authentic leadership may be helpful tools. Second, do not over complicate the idea of team building—simply let science drive application, using humble and authentic leadership. Third, built into both humble and authentic leadership is the idea of personal growth. Choose one or two behaviors from this article and attempt to apply them with your team. Then, evaluate whether the behavior works. 

Colonel Mitch Butterworth currently serves at US Army Training Doctrine and Command. He is an Army Chaplain, with a PhD in Organizational Leadership from the University of Oklahoma. You can reach him via LinkedIn.

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