Team versus Group – What is your work method?
Teams are often discussed in companies by managers, personnel developers, and employees. But what is a team? What is the difference between a team and a group?
Can your team be considered a team? Or do you work together as a group?
This article discusses the characteristics of teams and groups and demonstrates ways to differentiate and contrast the two forms of collaboration.
Definition Team versus Group
Let’s clarify what the two terms even mean before diving right into the topic.
Definition according to Thompson (2004)
A team is a group of individuals who are interdependent and collectively responsible for achieving specific goals for their organization.
From the Duden Dictionary:
Community; a circle of people who belong together because of certain similarities; have joined together because of common interests, goals.
A team consists of individual, independent people who, by joining together to form a team, pursue a common goal and thus share a mutual responsibility.
Teams pursue a common goal.
One of the most important characteristics of a team is a mutual goal. This is because a common goal unites (we-feeling). If all team members are committed, then it is also in the interest of the entire team to achieve this goal.
Therefore, defining a common goal helps teams to stay focused and provides clarity about the shared direction.
Team members know the goal and can ask themselves, “Does what I’m doing contribute to the team goal?”?
For this reason, it is essential that everyone on a team is committed to the same goal and shares an understanding of the intended outcome.
Common goals result in shared responsibility.
The whole team is responsible for the achievement of a goal, meaning the responsibility does not lie with any single individual but with the entire team.
At the same time, the responsibility for the task also increases for each person because each team member has a specific task to complete. If a team member does not achieve the job, the entire team does not achieve its goal.
The ability to be self-motivated and accountable is an essential characteristic for a team and for acting as a community.
Moreover, the entire team shares mistakes and celebrates their victories when all are jointly responsible for the result.
The roles in a team are clearly defined.
An effective team system must adhere to a clear distribution of roles. Every team member must know what their responsibilities are, who does what, and how to support the other team members.
When we refer to roles, we don’t just mean operational roles, but also the role that a person plays. So, what is my role within the team? Am I the one who keeps the team together, inspires the team, or protects and ensures that the projects are implemented?
The success of an endeavor depends on the presence of different types of people on a given team.
Actively contributing to the achievement of the group goal
Team members should be aware that they all contribute to the achievement of the shared goal.
It is therefore against the team’s intention and directly affects the outcome to slack off (that’s OK, someone else will do it).
As a result, a feeling of unity
Ultimately a shared goal leads to an understanding of cooperation and the active support of each other, which creates a feeling of unity among the group members.
For many people, this sense of unity is of great importance. It speaks to the fundamental element of belonging and community.
The sense of unity among team members provides a feeling of security and contributes to job satisfaction.
When teams work together, they achieve more than individuals who only follow their own goals.
How are groups and teams different?
Loosely associated people
In contrast to a team, a group is a loose association of people working together without a common goal.
People with similar interests may come together, but neither a common goal nor an agreement about how to work together is evident.
Each person focuses on their own goal and themselves.
A group is dominated by individual goals, with each person focusing on their own pursuits.
Roles are not distributed, interactions are notably random, and above all, nonbinding.
Group members contribute to their personal goals and are only responsible for themselves and not for the group.
Each member’s work also only affects their own results, not the group’s.
While a sense of unity may exist in a group, it is usually more ambiguous.
Groups versus Teams: a comparison in summary
Without common goal – own goals
Clearly defined roles, known by all team members
No role differentiation
Interdependence of goal achievement, binding nature
Random cooperation, nonbinding
Contributing to the achievement of a common goal
Contribution to own goal
Impact on team result/team goal
Impact on own result/goal
Sense of unity
Individualism, sense of unity
Hybrid versions in companies
Possibly, you might not find yourself in any of these descriptions as companies often have hybrids between a team and a group.
Example of hybrid versions
A company has specific roles and responsibilities. Vacancies are filled based on an annual goal. Yet, the employee does not know the organization’s actual goals. While mission statements may define goals and set values, employees themselves usually do not know those values and accordingly do not personally embody them.
Every person has their own goals and underlying motivations.
For example, Mr. Meyer may pursue the next management position for its salary and status. Ms. Müller may save money for her next vacation. Ms. Heinrich wants to become an expert in her field and make a difference in the company. And Ms. Heinrich chooses the position because it enables her to meet her professional and family commitments effortlessly.
Each employee impacts the company’s success, but they are solely responsible for their own actions. Their shared approach could be, “I don’t care what X or Y does. What matters is that I accomplish my goal.”.
The team is therefore not to be considered a real team but rather a collectively assembled group. However, a company as an organization pursues one goal and also bears responsibility for all of them.
Team versus Group Summary
The primary difference between a team and a group is that a team works together for a common goal.
As a result, the types of work and responsibilities differ.
Hybrids of a group and team structures are often found in companies.
The model you use should be customized to your situation and ensure that all members take ownership of their tasks.
We will support you with developing your teams, identifying potential and strengths, and building a team environment together.