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stamenkovic.se

professional lean, agile & change coach

Team versus Group

What is the difference between a group and a team? Is there really a difference? I argue that there is a definite and fundamental difference between a group and a team. To be able to understand this further one must start by defining the terms “group” and “team”.

A group can be defined as;

a small group of people with complementary skills and abilities who are committed to a leader’s goal and approach and are willing to be held accountable by the leader.”
Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith on The Wisdom of Teams  (Harvard Business School Press, 1992)

Whilst a team can be defined as;

“a small group of people with complementary skills and abilities who are committed to a common goal and approach for which they hold each other accountable.”
Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith on The Wisdom of Teams  (Harvard Business School Press, 1992)

Hence, a group is very individual-based (rather than team-based) where the group’s responsibility and accountability lie within every individual within the group (i.e. every individual is responsible and accountable for his/her own work). The group is dominantly held together by a leader, where the group supports the leader’s goals. The decisions made in a group are made by voting and/or implied agreement(s) whereas decisions on a team are typically made by consensus. Members within a team have skills and abilities that complement the purpose of the team. Hence, all team members do not have the same skills, but put together they get powerful! On teams, members share roles and responsibilities and are constantly developing new skills to improve the team’s performance. Teams identify and reach consensus on their common goal and approach, rather than looking to a leader to define the goal and approach. Most importantly, teams hold their members accountable. What does this mean in practical terms? When they experience conflict with a member, they speak to that member directly rather than to a supervisor. When a member isn’t performing to the level required, the team addresses the performance problem. I have tried to summarize the differences between a team and a group below:

Team vs Group 1

Team vs Group 2

So, would it be right to say that teams are good and groups are bad? Absolutely not! A more proper question to ask would be: when do you choose to use a group and when do you choose to make the extra effort to develop a team? Groups are (usually) far easier to create than teams, so it makes sense to be a group when: the decisions and process are already determined, buy-in is not necessary, time is a critical factor and there is split or minimal management support for teaming. To form the group, identify a strong, effective leader and empower the person to recruit group members, formulate the goal and approach and drive decision making. This approach would be practical for short-term projects with outcomes already defined.

Building a team, on the other hand, should be used when you need broad buy-in for the best results, when not one person has the answer and when shared responsibility is important to the success of the goal. To achieve a real team is difficult and time-consuming. There is no magic bullet that will transform a group into a team overnight. It takes time to develop the skills to work well together and understand how to solve problems and make decisions effectively.

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