Team versus Group

When is a team not a team? When it’s really a group!

Real teams have a clearly defined mission for which they hold themselves mutually accountable and produce a collective work product. Just because people are gathered to do something does not automatically make them a team. It takes intentional effort to move from being a group to a team.

A few distinctions between a team and a group include:

  • Team members exchange individual accountability for mutual group accountability and shared group responsibility
  • Teams identify and reach consensus on their common goal and approach while a group looks to the leader to define the goal and approach
  • Teams are small enough that they can connect and communicate easily and frequently

Amazon talks about the “two pizza team” or 2PTs, for short. This has less to do with their food of choice and all about creating a real team which is autonomous, accountable and small enough to stay connected.

The more people you add to a team; the more connections are required. The formula is n(n-1)/2 = the number of connections required. A team of six has fifteen points of connection. A group that is twice that size has 12(12-1)/2= 66 points of connection to manage. Large numbers of people cannot function as a team. The bigger the group, the more the cost of communicating, coordinating and collaborating with each other crushes “team members” to the point that the potential productivity of the individual and team is obliterated.

An example of a group is direct reports that meet with their manager but have individual performance requirements. The president of a company and her executives are a group unless there is focused effort to build trust, achieve results and mutual accountability.

An example of a real team is a project team that succeeds or fails together based on the results of the project. However, many project teams are really groups of individual contributors not teams.

It’s helpful to recognize that there is a difference between a real team and a group. Before you tout the fact that you value teams, make sure that you are willing to invest the time, energy and effort required to create a team. Sometimes a group is good enough. Next week we will cover some of the approaches to building teams.

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