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Working in diverse teams
Working in diverse teams

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4.1 Are all groups teams?

In many organisations, collections of people are referred to as teams when they are actually not teams but groups. You may be wondering at this point what the difference between the two is and whether this really matters. A good starting point in exploring this difference is to say that all teams are groups, but not all groups are teams. To be a team, the group will have to have special characteristics of their own.

Think of the example of a book club to illustrate this. A book club could be described as a group of individuals which meets each week to discuss ideas about a particular book they have chosen to read. Would you describe this as a team and if not why not?

What about someone who goes to a local ParkRun every weekend with the same group of people? Are they part of a team? They run the same course and all aim to finish in the quickest time they can. What do you think?

Image of people doing park run
Figure 4 Image of people doing park run

Both of these examples are groups, but not teams They are social groups that gather to enjoy a shared interest. What then would they need to have to make them a team? What is the difference between a group and a team?

Look at one definition of team from Katzenbach and Smith (1993):

A team is 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.

What does a group need to characterise it as a team? Breaking Katzenbach and Smith’s definition up:

  1. For a group to be a team, it needs to have a shared goal or ‘common purpose’ that all the members are working towards.
  2. Another important point is the concept of ‘complementary skills’. A key difference between a group and a team is that team members work together to achieve the goal. Completing the task or goal would not have been possible alone for it needs skills that are shared across the team.
  3. The team is ‘mutually accountable’. While a group may use the same resources to meet their individual goals, it is in a team that you see shared responsibility for achieving results and alongside this shared rewards.

Box 1 illustrates the difference between a group and a team very simply and shows when a group becomes a team.

Box 1 Group or team?

A number of people kicking football about in the car park at lunch time is probably a group. There is little structure to what is happening; it is just a few people acting in whatever role they choose (or possibly several roles) because they want to get some exercise and/or they like spending time with their friends before going back to work.

Taking this group and turning it into a football team would be a major task. Unlike the group, the team would have a clearly stated task; for example, winning as many matches as possible. Ensuring that the team performed this task would involve choosing the right people according to their abilities and particular skills to perform clearly-defined roles. Team training would need to be available to help the individuals work better together. The performance expectations of individuals would be defined by the roles they held. For example, no-one expects, except in very unusual circumstances, that the goalkeeper will score goals or that the strikers will defend the goal. When a game is won the team is seen to have achieved the task, although individuals may still be singled out for praise, or for criticism, as appropriate.

(OpenLearn, 2016)

A team, then, is a special type of group which ‘unites the members towards mutually held objectives’ (Bennett, 1994).