Getting Groups to Cooperate

In this article, you’ll discover the primary cause for (individuals and) groups to stop cooperating – create friction – lose productivity, and how you can reverse it.

“Nothing binds a people to their leader like a common enemy.”

– Harvey Fierstein (American Actor) –


A group of people working together can sometimes lose their way and begin to fall apart. Cooperation stops. Infighting begins. To understand the primary principle causing this, it’s important to view this from the perspective of both the individual and the group.

The Individual

Idle hands are the devil’s playground.

If you have nothing worthwhile going on in your life, nothing of real meaning or value, you will be (subconsciously) driven to create a little conflict in order to regain a sense of purpose in action.

This is the effect of your brain asserting its right to exist according to its natural design.

It is the nature of your brain to want to have something external to move towards (or away from). It’s main job is to coordinate and organize the activity of the community of 100 trillion cells that form your body and unite them in a common direction towards more Life.

Life is an organized ocean of endless motion and your brain wants to steer your motion on this ocean. It is like the steersman of a ship. If you have no place to go, the steersman gets antsy (so does the rest of the crew) and just wants to get moving in any direction so he can steer – for that is his purpose for being.

Dr. Maxwell Maltz, author of the 30 million copy bestselling book Psycho-Cybernetics, called the brain a ‘Servomechanism’ meaning that it is designed as a goal-oriented ‘machine’ that uses feedback to consistently adjust course until it reaches its goal. (The word ‘Cybernetic’ has its origin in the ancient Greek word ‘kubernetes’ meaning ‘steersman’.) Your brain is your ‘Success Mechanism’. It is the ‘machine’ you use to fulfill your intentions.

Your brain needs something external to steer toward constantly. Having a specific goal along with a worthwhile purpose for moving towards it is the ideal condition for a healthy mind, heart, and fulfilling life.

An idle mind without direction will divide against itself in an attempt to regain a sense of motion and purpose. This is the birth of neuroses. It explains why often the most neurotic people are those with nothing truly meaningful going on in their lives.

As it is with the one, it is with the many.

The Group

Have you ever worked with a group of people and experienced infighting, conflict, and drama? It’s a sign that there has been a loss of common perspective. The breakdown of cohesion in a group of people indicates the absence of a common priority goal. People within the group have begun to lose touch with the WHY of things. They have lost sight of their purpose for being together and their need for one another has become unclear.

Interestingly though, when a group like this, suffering from infighting and conflict, is threatened by an outside force, the infighting stops and the people band together to ‘fight’ their common enemy. Why? One reason is that, when it comes to the perception of threat, the brain, under stress, thinks primarily in black and white terms so, if your enemy is my enemy, then, by default, we are no longer adversaries. It is in both our best interests to work together and ensure our mutual ‘survival’. Hence, we bond.

In a situation where a conflicted team within a company is made aware of the competition’s ability to threaten their jobs, the coworkers, realizing they are all in the same boat, immediately drop their petty grievances – not just because they share a common enemy, but because they all have an equally vested interest in the outcome.

Here we can see that a common goal is held in place by everyone having some “skin in the game”.

These are core conditions that must be in place to help ensure a cohesive group. So, how does one go about creating these conditions?

Here are a five things to consider:


Common Enemy / Common Vision / Common Vested Interest
Either identify a ‘common enemy’ outside the group and outline exactly how this enemy poses an equal threat to all the people within the group or create a Vision for the next level of growth, why it is essential for the health of the company, and how the team will benefit equally as a result. Either way, the group must share a common goal where they all have something valuable to lose; something valuable to fight for.

Every Group/Team is an Ecosystem
It’s important to regard any group as an ecosystem where all the people have clearly defined roles and tasks and each person understands how all the roles are mutually supportive.

Human Touch
Everything we do is a form of communication. The power of human touch and its effect upon the psyche should not be underestimated. We have a tendency to feel more connected to those whom we touch physically in a kind and appropriate way. You can create team rituals (or games) that allow for regular handshaking and supportive pats on the back. Kindness conveyed in a touch supports greater intimacy and trust in all relationships. Trust is the glue that holds a group together.

Word Power
The power words have to shape emotion and attitude is immense. Studies have shown that the name given to a game has more influence over how competitive people are when they play it than their own personalities do. With this in mind, it would be wise to consider creating language that inspires cooperation and not competition. Naming the common goal or vision something like Collaborative Conquest will take advantage of a word’s power to prime our brains and steer us towards greater collaboration by organizing incoming information according to the precedent set by the meaning of that word. The word/name acts as a filter through which our brains interpret the context of people’s behaviour. Stay conscious of using words that inspire each other to be mutually supportive. Name your projects accordingly.

Constant Contact
Well maybe not constant, but consistent and frequent for sure. Proximity increases the amount we like other people. The more we interact with others in a cooperative way, the more we create trust. More trust = greater progress and ease due to reduced friction. It’s important when creating strategies within a team that there are no ‘lone wolves’. Everyone should be communicating consistently about the vision/project and working together in a way that has everyone accepting responsibility for their roles while still looking out for their teammates and helping them up when they fall.


The main point here is to consider using the above components to create guidelines which naturally steer your group to cooperate in a mutually supportive way and NOT compete with each other. They are to work together as ONE towards a common end in which they all share an equally vested interest.


© 2015 Trent Janisch –


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