Do You Have a Work Group or an Effective Team?


Work groups and teams are not the same thing, although we often interchange two labels.  The difference in productivity and efficiency between the two is often extreme.  While both are groups of employees working toward a common goal, functionally they are quite different.  If your teams are not producing at your anticipated level, perhaps they aren’t teams at all.

What Goal Are They Driving Toward?

When you think of goals you probably think of the work you’ve given your group to accomplish.   Underlying that goal, however, is the reason or goal of the group’s existence.  Why is the group together and what is its purpose?

A work group is a gathering of employees that shares information and makes decisions that help each member get their individual work done.  The goal is information sharing.  There is no reason for the members to collaborate or work together on anything.  They are united only in that each is working on an individual task related to the same project.

Contrast this with the goal of a team.  A team is a group of employees who are working collectively to solve a common problem, complete a single task or project, or achieve a common goal.  They must do more than communicate and share information.  They must collectively strategize and complete tasks in order to meet their objectives.

How’s the Energy Level?

Members of a work group are usually neutral toward each other.  They are not affected by any one person’s performance and therefore they don’t need to judge efforts or results.  This neutral energy continues until someone can’t complete a tasks and the work is shifted among group members.  Then things can turn negative quickly.

A team is generally characterized by a positive energy.  This type of synergy comes from the experience of working together and achieving something with the help of each other.  Think of a group of football players celebrating a touchdown in the end zone.  Rather than the individual ability that brought them to the locker room, they have become something greater.  They are a team.

What is the Accountability Structure?

Teams function on individual as well as mutual accountability.  Each member of the team is accountable to their fellow team members for individual performance.  They work to meet the expectations of the team and not let anyone down.  Everyone on the team is accountable, however, for the end result of the group’s efforts.

The situation is quite different in a work group.  Each member is accountable to people outside the team for their work and the results of their efforts.  This individual accountability means that each person is truly independent of the others.

What is the Skills Mix?

Teams are based on complimentary skills.  Each member of a team brings something unique and needed to the team and is a valued member because of their skill.  The skills, when used collectively and in harmony, produce the type of results teams are known for.

Work groups, on the other hand, are assembled based on roles, titles, or organizational charts.  The skills of each member are as random as the personalities of the individuals.  There is no need for complimentary skills since each person has a task or set of tasks that they can complete alone using the skills they have personally.

Work Group or Team – You Decide

There are times when all you need is the information and decision making vehicle a work group provides.  No need to spend a lot of effort trying to form this group into a team.  The results will likely only frustrate you.

If you decide, however, that you want to leverage the energy and productivity of a team as you accomplish an organizational goal you must form the team carefully.  Make sure tasks are allocated to the group in total and not assigned to individuals.  Let the group take responsibility, and accountability, for the distribution of work load.  Instead, select team members based on skill set to ensure that together they have everything they need to achieve.

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