Jennell Evans

Jennell Evans


Identity Crisis: Are we a TEAM or a WORKING GROUP?

"Team" or "Group?" What difference does it make?

Posted Jan 23, 2010

With most companies asking employees to accomplish more with less resources these days, we often meet people who are introduced to us as a "team" only to find out that they do not consider themselves a team at all. Instead, they perceive themselves as simply a group of people who are working together on a project.

"My team," "your team," and "our team" seem to be used loosely to describe a group of two or more people who work together. People that get labeled a "team" may actually be functioning more like a working group.

Why does it matter if a group identifies themselves as a team or a group? Because understanding the distinction can make a huge difference in what, how, and when work gets accomplished.

How Does a Team Differ From A Working Group? Jon R. Katzenback and Douglas K. Smith,  authors of Harvard Business Review article, The Discipline of Teams,  define a team as "a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable."

Katzenback and Smith's article also defines key characteristics that distinguish a working group and a team: 

Characteristics of a Working Group:
Strong, clearly focused leader
Individual accountability
The group's purpose is the same as the broader organizational mission
Individual work-products
Runs efficient meetings
Measures its effectiveness indirectly by its influence on others (e.g. financial performance of the business)
Discusses, decides, and delegates

Characteristics of a Team:
Shared leadership roles
Individual and mutual accountability
Specific team purpose that the team itself delivers
Collective work-products
Encourages open-ended discussion and active problem-solving meetings
Measures performance directly by assessing collective work-products
Discusses, decides, and does real work together

Clarity regarding a group's identity as a team or a work group can facilitate work getting done faster and at a higher level of quality. Investing time upfront to discuss a group's goals, roles, and purpose will help clarify if it should function as a real team or a working group. Confusion about these core group elements can be the root cause of mediocre engagement and stifled productivity. Thinking about your own workplace experiences, can you share any tips for helping teams or work groups be successful?

About the Author

Jennell Evans

Jennell Evans is President and CEO of Strategic Interactions, Inc., a workplace performance improvement firm based in Fairfax, VA.

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