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Unit cohesion is a military concept, defined by one former United States Chief of staff in the early 1980s as "the bonding together of soldiers in such a way as to sustain their will and commitment to each other, the unit, and mission accomplishment, despite combat or mission stress".[1] However the concept lacks a consensus definition among military analysts, sociologists and psychologists.[2]

QuotesEdit

  • Only when both social and task cohesion were low did people rate overall cohesion as low. The negative effects of too much social bonding were mentioned as well. . . . even those who longed for the “good old days” of high social cohesion admitted that some now-abandoned types of social bonding between men were actually unprofessional and detracted from the work environment. [pp. 58–59] . . . That task cohesion was strong and took precedence over social cohesion was expressed in a number of different ways: . . . “We all have our own thing going but when we need to get together for a goal the ship works together well.” “When an actual casualty occurs everyone joins together for the common good.” . . . “Although we don’t get along we are all ready for a fight.” [p. 60]
    • Harrell and Miller (1997) pp.58-60 as quoted in, Robert J. MacCoun & William M. Hix, Unit Cohesion and Military Performance, in Sexual Orientation and U.S. Military Personnel Policy: An Update of RAND's 1993 Study, Santa Monica: RAND, 2010, ch.5, p.146.
  • In the years immediately after World War II, several scholars argued, based on information collected from German and American soldiers, that unit cohesion is essential to military effectiveness. Their conclusions gained considerable influence within the military. As we discuss below, our understanding of the concept of cohesion and its relationship to military performance has evolved in the years since, but the importance of the general concept of cohesion remains widely appreciated in the military.
  • Robert J. MacCoun & William M. Hix, Unit Cohesion and Military Performance, in Sexual Orientation and U.S. Military Personnel Policy: An Update of RAND's 1993 Study, Santa Monica: RAND, 2010, ch.5, p.137.
  • In the years immediately after World War II, Marshall (1947), Shils and Janowitz (1948), and Stouffer et al. (1949) argued that social cohesion within the soldier’s primary group is essential to military effectiveness. Shils and Janowitz offered the following (1948, p. 281): It appears that a soldier’s ability to resist is a function of the capacity of his immediate primary group (his squad or section) to avoid social disintegration. When the individual’s immediate group, and its supporting formations, met his basic organic needs, offered him affection and esteem from both officers and comrades, supplied him with a sense of power and adequately regulated his relations with authority, the element of self-concern in battle, which would lead to disruption of the effective functioning of his primary group, was minimized.
    Nevertheless, it is not clear that social cohesion was the driving force behind combat motivation, even during World War II. Stouffer et al. (1949) reported that when soldiers were asked, “What was most important to you in making you want to keep going and do as well as you could?” only 14 percent cited “solidarity with the group”; the most popular response (cited by 39 percent) was “ending the task.”
    • Ibid, p.144.
  • The post-Vietnam–era military scholars began articulating a view of cohesion that emphasizes the importance of task cohesion. For example, an influential definition of military cohesion was offered by Wm. Darryl Henderson in his 1985 book, Cohesion: The Human Element in Combat. His vision is clearly more in accord with task cohesion than social cohesion: Cohesion exists in a unit when the day-to-day goals of the individual soldier, of the small group with which he identifies, and of unit leaders, are congruent— with each giving his primary loyalty to the group so that it trains and fights as a unit with all members willing to risk death and achieve a common objective. (Henderson, 1985, p. 4)
    • Ibid, p.145.
  • Siebold (2007) describes the “standard model” of cohesion as involving peer (horizontal), leader (vertical), organizational, and institutional bonding, each having an affective component and an instrumental component. He focuses on the role of trust and teamwork, as well as self-interest, in building cohesion: The essence of strong primary group cohesion, which I believe to be generally agreed on, is trust among group members (e.g., to watch each other’s back) together with the capacity for teamwork (e.g., pulling together to get the task or job done). [p. 288] . . . Combat group members try to develop strong bonding as a collective good, at least in part, because it is in their own self-interest for survival to do so. [p. 289] . . . While it is true that a few researchers have focused on intimate personal bonds and informal rituals, I submit that the majority of researchers . . . have used some form or part of the standard model in their approach, especially during the past twenty years, which does not dwell on intimate relations or masculine rituals but rather emphasizes interpersonal trust and teamwork built through many experiences including arduous training and drills. [p. 291] . . . [M]ere friendship or comradeship is not the essence of cohesion. [p. 292]
    • Ibid, p.145.
  • Other scholars have emphasized the importance of trust and teamwork based on common experiences, including training and a focus on performing common tasks. Siebold (2007) describes the “standard model” of cohesion as involving peer (horizontal), leader (vertical), organizational, and institutional bonding, each having an affective component and an instrumental component. He focuses on the role of trust and teamwork, as well as self-interest, in building cohesion: The essence of strong primary group cohesion, which I believe to be generally agreed on, is trust among group members (e.g., to watch each other’s back) together with the capacity for teamwork (e.g., pulling together to get the task or job done). [p. 288] . . . Combat group members try to develop strong bonding as a collective good, at least in part, because it is in their own self-interest for survival to do so. [p. 289] . . . While it is true that a few researchers have focused on intimate personal bonds and informal rituals, I submit that the majority of researchers . . . have used some form or part of the standard model in their approach, especially during the past twenty years, which does not dwell on intimate relations or masculine rituals but rather emphasizes interpersonal trust and teamwork built through many experiences including arduous training and drills. [p. 291] . . . [M]ere friendship or comradeship is not the essence of cohesion. [p. 292]
    • Ibid, p.145.
  • In their interviews with members of the Army, Navy, and Marines regarding the integration of women in units, Harrell and Miller (1997) argue that their respondents seemed to recognize the distinction between task and social cohesion: Only when both social and task cohesion were low did people rate overall cohesion as low. The negative effects of too much social bonding were mentioned as well. . . . even those who longed for the “good old days” of high social cohesion admitted that some now-abandoned types of social bonding between men were actually unprofessional and detracted from the work environment. [pp. 58–59] . . . That task cohesion was strong and took precedence over social cohesion was expressed in a number of different ways: . . . “We all have our own thing going but when we need to get together for a goal the ship works together well.” “When an actual casualty occurs everyone joins together for the common good.” . . . “Although we don’t get along we are all ready for a fight.” [p. 60]
    • Ibid, p.146.
  • In the theater of operations . . . the presence of the enemy, and his capacity to injure and kill, give the dominant emotional tone to the combat outfit. . . . The impersonal threat of injury from the enemy, affecting all alike, produces a high degree of cohesion so that personal attachments throughout the unit become intensified. Friendships are easily made by those who might never have been compatible at home, and are cemented under fire. Out of the mutually shared hardships and dangers are born an altruism and generosity that transcend ordinary individual selfish interests. So sweeping is this trend that the usual prejudices and divergences of background and outlook, which produce social distinction and dissension in civil life, have little meaning to the group in combat. Religious, racial, class, schooling or sectional differences lose their power to divide the men. What effect they have is rather to lend spice to a relationship which is now based principally on the need for mutual aid in the presence of enemy action. Such powerful forces as antisemitism, anticatholicism or differences between Northerners and Southerners are not likely to disturb interpersonal relationships in a combat crew. . . . Their association is not limited to working hours but includes their social activities. . . . The most vital relationship is not the purely social. It is the feeling that the men have for each other as members of combat teams and toward the leaders of those teams, that constitutes the essence of their relationship.
    • Grinker and Spiegel, Men Under Stress (1945), pp. 21–22; as quoted in Robert J. MacCoun & William M. Hix, Unit Cohesion and Military Performance, in Sexual Orientation and U.S. Military Personnel Policy: An Update of RAND's 1993 Study, Santa Monica: RAND, 2010, ch.5, p.147.
  • Elsewhere, Moskos, as cited in Marlowe (1979), referred to this social compact as “instrumental and self-serving.” But a less cynical framing is provided by the growing literature on the importance of “swift trust” in high-stakes settings (Kramer, 1999; Majchrzak, Jarvenpaa, and Hollingshead, 2007; Meyerson, Weick, and Kramer, 1996). Trust that is based on strong interpersonal bonds can take a long time to develop (McAllister, 1995; Webber, 2008). But Meyerson, Weick, and Kramer (1996) note that professional teams often “have a finite life span, form around a shared and relatively clear goal or purpose, and their success depends on a tight and coordinated coupling of activity.” Majchrzak, Jarvenpaa, and Hollingshead (2007) examined various case studies in the development of swift trust among complete strangers in response to natural disasters.
    Kramer (1999) reviewed evidence for several different ways in which this kind of swift trust develops, including category-based trust (based on knowledge of the other person’s membership in trusted groups), role-based trust (e.g., using high rank as a measure of one’s past experience and performance), and rule-based trust (based on “shared understandings regarding the system of rules regarding appropriate behavior,” p. 579). These mechanisms may work through either task cohesion or social cohesion, depending on the setting. Thus, when people rely on someone’s professional certification (e.g., as a surgeon, engineer, or musician), there may be a rapidly established task cohesion. If, however, one were to rely on credentials from a fraternal organization, the swift trust might rapidly create social cohesion. Similarly, rule-based trust might promote task cohesion in professional settings but social cohesion in social organizations.Of course, these routes are not mutually exclusive; professional conferences organize social outings, and fraternal groups organize charitable works.
    • Ibid, p.148
  • Several recent studies have examined the effects of race, ethnicity, and gender on military cohesion. Siebold and Lindsay (2000) noted that “a central tenet of current personnel policy is that the Army can recruit 17- to 21-year-old men [sic] . . . from different demographic backgrounds, train them, and assign them to groups with leaders, who also have different demographic backgrounds, to form cohesive, motivated, and competent combat units.” They report on an Army Research Institute study of 60 light infantry platoons (955 soldiers) at the U.S. Army Joint Readiness Training Center and NTC. Soldiers completed a detailed questionnaire assessing squad cohesion and related attitudes. The average self-reported cohesion rating was around 3.4 on a 5-point scale (5=high cohesion), with no differences in self-reported cohesion ratings for white, black, Hispanic, and Asian soldiers. The researchers noted that “[t]his pattern of little differentiation based on racial or ethnic (demographic) group membership is typical. The unit’s internal conditions, including leadership quality, appear to be the dominant influences on soldier cohesion and motivation.”
    • Ibid, p.150.
  • Joshi and Roh note that their analysis helps to pinpoint “the specific conditions under which diversity can have beneficial or detrimental effects on performance outcomes” (p. 618)—specifically, sociodemographic diversity is most likely to be deleterious when it is unbalanced (large majority, small minority) in highly task-interdependent teams. But it is important to bear in mind that these negative effects are quite small.14 Thus, Joshi and Roh note that “our findings challenge the assumption, born from social categorization theory, that some aspects of diversity necessarily have detrimental effects on team performance.” Similarly, King, Hebl, and Beal (2009) suggest that “although social categorization theory (the primary model that would apply to cooperative behaviors) would typically suggest that similarity fosters cooperation, there is substantial evidence that this is not always the case.”
    • Ibid, p.153
  • We believe this because we examined dozens of empirical studies, both published and unpublished, of team cohesion and performance in military units, industrial and sports teams and other groups. We also analyzed the political and organizational process by which African Americans were integrated into the military in the 1940s and 1950s, despite tenacious racial animosities among service personnel and vigorous opposition by military leadership. Further, we investigated how nondiscrimination policies for gays and lesbians are working in practice in U.S. police and fire departments and in Israeli and European military forces. Too often, this evidence is dismissed as irrelevant, without serious consideration or refutation.
    Indeed, a wealth of evidence, including the military's own research, debunks the claim that gays would irreparably damage "task cohesion." Liking all the members of one's group on an interpersonal level--"social cohesion"--either has no measurable influence on performance or, at very high levels, actually may have a detrimental impact. In short, the military learned long ago that professionalism does not require you to like someone to work effectively with him or her.

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. "Morale and Cohesion in Military Psychiatry, Fred Manning, p.4 in Military Psychiatry: Preparing in Peace for War, ISBN 0-16-059132-5; Manning cites Meyer, EC, "The unit", Defense, 1982;82(February):1-9
  2. Brian Palmer (2010), "Pentagon Sees Little Risk in Allowing Gay Men and Women to Serve Openly" Slate (magazine), Dec. 1, 2010

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