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Cohesion and Coupling


Explanations > Groups > Cohesion and Coupling

Cohesion | Coupling | Four group types | See also


There are two ways in which people and groups connect inwards and outwards, thereby making four types of group.


What makes a group? Why do people come together and spend time with each other? The answer is some form of similarity and common interest. It can be work or pleasure, survival or searching for something. Take any group and you will find people with things in common. This commonality is what causes the cohesion within the group, the 'magnetism' that attracts them to one another.

Cohesion within groups is not uniform. Some people are strongly connected with many others within the group whilst some are close only to a chosen few, for example work colleagues where a quieter one has few close friends there whilst the more gregarious person seems to get on well with everyone.

A highly cohesive group has lots of strong internal ties. They have a clear purpose and most are highly motivated to achieving this. A group with low cohesion are together almost accidentally, for example people who are on a short-term training course or who travel to work on the same train.


Whereas cohesion is about connection within the group, coupling is connection outside the group. A person in the group, for example may be very inward focused or may spend much time connecting with many external contacts.

Groups where few people connect with few outsiders have low coupling and are very insular. Life for them is all about what happens in the group. Groups with high coupling have multiple people with more connections to people in other groups.

Low and high coupling has both advantage and disadvantage, which may be different depending on whether there is also high or low cohesion, as discussed below.

Four group types

There are four types of group that can appear, based on whether cohesion and coupling are high or low.


Cohesion and coupling

High Low










Loners: Low cohesion, low coupling

A loners group is made up of people who have little in common with anyone, either within the group or outside, which may be the only cohesive reason to be together. People who drop out of society or who are homeless can be like this. Their condition of being different and pushing away can end up with them ending up together.

Loners are not necessarily lonely. They may well be happy with their own company and are just not interested in interacting with others. The benefit of associating with other loners is one of convenience in that they do not bother one another.

Ideas do not spread into, out of or around loner groups. They each live inside their own worlds and are not interested in the outer world, or are too afraid of it to venture out.

Crossroads: Low cohesion, high coupling

A crossroads group is made up of people who are together more by coincidence than need. Their major connections are with other people and not with one another. The only cohesion may be temporal, such as people who are waiting for a train together. They may exchange pleasantries but often little more.

There still can be benefit at the crossroads, where people may exchange news. Those who wait for the bus frequently may get to know faces and grow a little cohesion in brief conversations. They may exchange ideas even without speaking if one opens a newspaper and another sees something of interest.

Island: High cohesion, low coupling

Islands are like countries of their own. They are so disconnected from others, their culture and values may be very different. They may indeed push away from others who they find fearful, bad or wrong in some way. Street gangs and protest groups are like this as they retreat from society, making their own laws and demonizing traditional ways.

Islands, particularly small ones, may be cohesive and harmonious but there can also be internal divisions and a sense of being trapped with no escape route. Smaller and more cohesive islands are particularly prone to less innovation as creativity rocks the boat and may well break strict rules.

In practice, islands often have bridges, with limited coupling by a careful few to other islands and countries. Much of society is like a sea of close islands with few or more bridges. There can even be 'islands within islands' as sub-groups form within larger groups. This linking and variation is good for innovation and the introduction of external ideas.

Hub: High cohesion, high coupling

The hub is the most connected form of group, with people spending time both in the group and outside with a wide range of friends and collaborators. This type of group may be deliberately formed of people whose main home is in other groups but who come together for a particular purpose, often sharing, for example in professional societies and institutes.

Hubs typically appear in larger systems where there is common purpose across otherwise separate groups and where cross-group sharing is beneficial to all. A classic form is the 'community of practice' where professionals and practitioners form a loose network who come together occasional to discuss and share esoteric problems.

See also



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