Team Cohesion: The Real Star of the 2016 Summer Olympics Game in Rio

For those of us who have been obsessively watching the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, there have been no shortage of stories about individual triumph and achievement.  But what’s been even more interesting to witness are some of the team dynamics that have emerged in some of the sports.

Take the US women’s gymnastics team, as an example.  Gymnastics is widely regarded as one of the most competitive and cut-throat sports in existence.  In past years, we’ve seen many examples of poor sportsmanshipoutright jealousy, and worse. 

This year, however, it’s been fascinating to see how close-knit the US women’s team remains, despite the fact that they are often competing against one another in individual events.  Each of the individuals on the team have faced enormous challenges over the course of these games.  For Gabby Douglas, there was the issue of not being included in the all-around competition she had won gold for in 2012, due to the limitation of two competitors per team.  

The team captain Ally Raisman, who has quietly built one of the USA’s best Olympics gymnastics records and may be competing for the last time, needed to content herself with silvers in all of her individual competitions since she consistently placed second to teammate Simone Biles.  And Simone Biles herself, who is arguably the best gymnast in the world, faltered in her balance beam routine and was surpassed by her younger teammate Laurie Hernandez.  Yet throughout all of these challenges, the cohesion of this team continued to shine through, with team members consistently expressing genuine joy and enthusiasm for one another’s achievements.  

Like all organizations that experience true alignment, this is a team that, for all of the tremendous talent of its individual members, is truly bigger than the sum of its parts.

By way of contrast, the US men’s basketball team was stacked with the best talent in the world, but struggled to gel as a team up until the semifinals, with very narrow-margin wins over Serbia, France, and Australia. Despite the all-star roster including Kevin Durant, Paul George, Kyrie Irving, and other top players from the NBA, a lack of communication and trust between team members put the players into a state of internal competition, rather than cooperation.  

Yet, in the end, the team members found their rhythm and rallied to win a third straight gold medalwith a 30-point margin win of 96-66 over Serbia.  As expressed by an emotional Carmelo Anthony, “Despite everything that's going on in this country right now, we've got to be united,  America…. I'm glad that we represented America the way we did."