Teams vs. Groups

Teams vs. Groups

This tool reminds people about the difference between teams and groups. When a group is mislabeled as a team, people may have unrealistic expectations of each other. On the other hand, if a group aspires to be a team, it is useful to know what behaviors are expected of team members. This tool is best used in conjunction with other tools in our Leadership Toolbox: “Five Habits of High Performing Teams,” “The Team Checklist,” and “Stages of Team Development.”

Here are three types of groups found in many organizations:

Team: People who convene to achieve a well-understood purpose or mission; they have the necessary authority; they have clear measurements of progress; all members must work together to achieve the mission.

Work Group: People who share a common purpose in coming together but whose focus is on achieving different missions. They do not need to work together as a team in order to achieve their missions. An example is people from different functional areas – sales and production, for instance – who come together to keep each other informed.

Management Council: People who convene regularly to inform and advise. A group of leaders of independent subsidiaries, for example, who meet regularly to advise the CEO.

Here are the characteristics of teams vs. groups:



  • The team has a purpose, and every member knows what the purpose is.
  • The group has a purpose, and every member knows what the purpose is.
  • Each team member is vital to the team’s success.
  • The group can succeed in a variety of ways; it is not so dependent on individual group members for success.
  • Each member makes a commitment to support the team and to do what’s necessary to make the team successful.
  • Members may or may not make commitments to the group.
  • The team has defined rules of engagement, things team members have agreed to do to support the team.
  • The group may or may not have rules of engagement; if rules exist, they have less urgency and power than in a team.
  • When conflicts or surprises occur, team members think of the team first, and act accordingly. They communicate quickly, proactively, and straightforwardly.
  • When conflicts or surprises occur, members of the group may or may not think of the group first. They may have other groups or teams that are a higher priority for them.
  • The team regularly takes the pulse of team members and assesses whether it is succeeding in working together as a team.
  • The group rarely takes its pulse. Success for the group is less dependent on teamwork.
  • The team displays teamwork all the time. People know that tough issues will be brought to the team to hash out.
  • The group may display teamwork when dealing with a particular problem, but it is not consistent or expected.

It takes a lot more effort and communication to be a team. After reviewing the characteristics of groups versus teams, ask people to commit one way or the other. Remember, it’s perfectly okay to decide to be a group, not a team. The important thing is to be honest with each other about the level of commitment you’re willing to make – and not fall into the trap of pretending to be a team.

LRI’s consulting is designed to achieve real, meaningful change for our clients.

Eric Douglas

Eric Douglas is the senior partner and founder of Leading Resources Inc., a consulting firm that focuses on developing high-performing organizations. For more than 20 years, Eric has successfully helped a wide array of government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and corporations achieve breakthroughs in performance. His new book The Leadership Equation helps leaders achieve strategic clarity, manage change effectively, and build a leadership culture.

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