Are you in a team or a work group?

February 17, 2021
Being a team player and contributing to a successful team are high on the list of qualities to bring to any job. But you might find you are not part of a team at all.

Being a team player and contributing to a successful team are high on the list of qualities to bring to any job. But if you actually examine the work you and other members of your team do, how you approach your tasks and deliver an outcome, you might find you are not part of a team at all.

Work groups are subtly different to work teams and each has its pros and cons. Jon R. Katzenbach and DouglasK. Smith, authors of Harvard Business Review article The Discipline ofTeams, break down the characteristics of work groups and work teams.

If you are part of a work group, you will have an identified leader. Each individual will have accountability and the group's purpose is the same as the broader aim of the company or organisation. Meetings will be efficient and success will be measured by long-reach outcomes such as improved profitability of the wider organisation. Work groups talk things through, make decisions and delegate tasks.

If you are part of a work team, leadership is spread throughout and individuals take their own and mutual accountability. Meetings cover broad discussion and flow more freely to arrive at solutions. The team has a defined, shared goal, such as delivering a product or event and therefore is often temporary - they work together on the task until it is complete. The team’s success is measured on the outcome to which they have all been mutually committed.

Image source: Harvard Business Review

Looking at the use of teams and groups more broadly helps to clarify their differences. Football teams have to work towards the same goal – literally – and they bring their skills to their roles within that team.

A group is a collection of people who coordinate their efforts and opinions, such as political rallies and focus groups. They share a common interest and often share standards, beliefs and principles.

Connotations of the words team and group can have some sway on laying claim to being part of one or another. The cliquey-ness of team building, ubiquitous use of the term ‘team player’, and the sociability of being ‘one of the team’ can make it the better position to be in.

The term ‘group’ is used more for loose connections: music groups could be made up of several strong musicians, reading groups share an interest in books but don’t have to agree on which they like. A group needs some cohesion to exist but is not as welded together as a team.

Having a better understanding of whether you are in a team or a group can help with roles, boundaries and outcomes: each member will know what is expected of them and what they can expect from each other. Establishing the structure of your collective at the outset of a project will therefore aid productivity.

The strength of a team is in its ability to work together, combining skills, which is why the word team is so intrinsic to business. An employer wants to be sure of a collection of people who each have glowing CVs and who can mix their top qualities with those of their colleagues to ensure the best results for the company. Group dynamics do not magnify collaboration in the same way but that is not to say groups have no place at work.

Just as work groups can be more suited to some tasks than work teams, each member of a team or group can be expected to have varying levels of comfort with what is expected of them: some people enjoy the relative autonomy of group work while others prefer to work by consensus in a team.

The flat hierarchy of a team may prove less motivating for some, while working under a team leader regardless of their wider power and influence could be uncomfortable for others. Recognising which you are in and which suits you best will help you to alter your ways of working accordingly, to arrive at the desired outcome.

Which sounds more familiar to you?

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