Groups Vs. Teams And Why You Want To Know The Difference

People have had to work together since the beginning of time in one way or another.

Look at the Romans. Sure, there were individuals, rulers and emperors, but they didn’t work alone. They had groups and teams of minions running around and working toward a cause—a common understanding of what success looked like as communicated by the leader/emperor himself. And of course you need leadership, but leaders don’t exist without followers. That’s where teams come in.

The Romans didn’t last as long as they did because they were better people than everybody else. They sustained power (i.e. “competitive advantage”) because they had a knack for social organization. They knew how to carefully orchestrate groups of people and unite them under a single mission.

Groups vs Teams

Let’s distinguish the difference between groups and teams because too often they’re considered the same.

What A Group Is

Remember taking exams in school? Of course you do, that’s a silly question (but it won’t be the last). Each student in the class had his/her own goal when taking that exam. One student’s goal might’ve been to get an A, another student’s goal might’ve been to merely pass, and of course the one kid who sucked at everything had a goal of sitting next to the smartest student and looking at her paper to copy her answers. Just sayin’.

Anyway, that’s a group—when a bunch of individuals show up for a common work task and the sum of each of their contributions adds up to achieving that work task. In the example above, the overall work task was completing the exam, yet each student had his/her own goal.

What A Team Is

Teams, on the other hand, are different. Teams form when members share a common purpose, hold each other and the team mutually accountable toward pursuing that purpose, and depend on one another’s contributions to fulfill that purpose. Think of any professional sports team–a basketball team, a football team, a lacrosse team. Those teams succeeded because each member did his/her part.

The key distinguishing characteristic between groups and teams is mutual accountability. In groups, each individual is responsible for producing work, but the group’s output doesn’t demand collaboration. Not so in teams. In teams, the work task depends on the collective efforts of everyone involved. Pictures are worth a thousand words:



This is just one type of team

View The Full PDF On Groups vs Teams Here

Okay, so how do you know if you’re part of a group or a team? Ask yourself a few questions:

1. Does work depend upon individual contributions, or, must people work jointly and integrate complementary skills? 

The banking industry is a prime example of a group. Bankers are subject matter experts who stay in their knowledge lanes and produce work unique to their own roles and know-how.

Sales teams are no different. Even though “team” is in the title, sales teams are rarely true teams. Sales reps typically focus on their own territories, and when they’ve exhausted all their resources, they encroach on other sales reps’ territories because that’s how they’re incentivized—as individuals, and sales numbers are the main metric (of course not all sales teams do this, but many). If you produce more sales, you earn more money. It’s that simple. So, of course sales teams work as groups and not real teams, because they’re not incentivized to do so.

2. Is work driven by a single leader or by members themselves?

Because teams hold themselves and each other mutually accountable, having a single leader as the “driver” of decisions isn’t necessary. Instead, the team makes decisions because the team is working together and therefore the team knows what’s best.

3. Do we all share the same fate?

In other words, if the success of the project/task depends upon everybody’s contribution, then that’s a team. If not, it’s a group. Think of an NBA team. You have different roles for each member (i.e. center, forward, point guard) and the success of the team demands each member to contribute equally. If he doesn’t, then the team suffers.

Business works the same way (but not all projects warrant a team approach. Learn why here).

If you want to wield a productive team, reward them as a team. That’s the mark of a real team—a shared fate.

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