Group vs Team: Are Groups Really that Bad?

· collaboration

Post image group-vs-team

What’s the difference between a group and a team? When people share an elevator ride, they are a group; when the elevator gets stuck, they become a team.

Individuals that get on the same elevator most likely share some things, like: they work in the same building and on the same floor or they may work for the same boss and have similar interests. The mere fact that they have something in common makes them a group.

However, if elevator breaks down and they get stuck, a common goal of “getting out of there” makes this group a team.

Difference between a group and a team

A group is a collective of mutually independent individuals with separate goals who are brought together by common interests and experience. Even though everyone shares information and resources with other group members, each member is responsible for their own work.

There are two types of groups:

  • formal group, created by the management to perform a particular task
  • informal group, formed naturally by employees for different reasons

A team is an interdependent group of individuals who share responsibility and are focused on a common goal. People in a team have a mutual understanding with other members. By working together, they tend to maximize each other’s strengths and minimize weaknesses. Unlike a group, where each member is expected to contribute separately, the most important characteristic of a team is synergy: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Here’s the table with differences between groups and teams:

Difference between a group and a team
GroupTeam
LeadershipOne leaderMultiple leaders
MembersIndependentInterdependent
ProcessDiscuss - Decide - DelegateDiscuss - Decide - Do
Product of workIndividualCollective
FocusIndividual goalsCollective goals

Why is a team better than a group

90% of articles on the internet represent group as a bad thing , and team as good thing All these articles say: “Transform your group into a team, and you will achieve success!”

But is this true?

Mostly yes. There are a few advantages teams have over groups, like:

  • There is a lot more communication between members;
  • Collaboration and synergy are better;
  • Common goal ensures that everyone are focused on the same cause.

Some experts even claim that ‘team based organization’ is the only way to go. Biren Bandara, a leadership skills trainer at Leader school, says that he differentiates ‘group’ vs ‘team’ very clearly: in a group, everybody works on mutually exclusive tasks, while in a team all members are focused on common goal or mission through completion of interdependent tasks.

Biren Bandara

I’ve only seen pros for the team based organization. A team allows for better syncing of efforts, streamlining of the organization, and better risk management. A teams accomplishes things and do better under a lot more pressure, stress, and circumstance than a group. If those things are important to you, a team based organization is imperative.

Even though he considers group and team to be completely different entities, Biren believes that an organization can transform an inefficient group into an efficient team.

If a group of individuals is ever to become a team, it needs a strong leader with strong interpersonal skills, vision, and communication. The key is to convince the group how important the mission and vision is, and then demonstrate how they can all achieve more by working together as a team. Mind you, the degree of how close the team works depends on work as the well as the situation at hand: even when team members don’t have much in common, and may never see each other, the binding point for the team should be the overall goal.

Advantages of Groups

Contrary to popular opinion, there are certain times when groups are better than teams. Groups are better in temporary working relationships when members have no time to form a proper team but must get things done swiftly and efficiently. Also, individuals of different backgrounds hastily brought together can sometimes produce some rather unconventional and applicable ideas.

Ben Friedman, a co-founder and head operations of Boston-based startup All Set, never puts a team in charge of the creation of a new product or a feature. Instead, he brings together a group of individuals to solve the problem at hand.

Ben Friedman

If you are looking to ideate around a problem, “groups” that consist of members from different backgrounds or disciplines are the most effective. Since you have the SME (subject matter expert) in the room ready to tackle the problem, you can get different perspectives on an idea you wouldn’t normally get with members of the same “team.”

Group proved to be very useful when his company was creating a desktop version of their service. Since only a mobile app was available at the time, the company believed that diversification could greatly increase company’s customer base.

We were not sure how much of the mobile functionality we needed for the desktop experience, so we wanted to test it in the market before creating a bunch of potentially unnecessary features. To get a multitude of different perspectives on how the desktop experience should flow, we pulled together some people from several departments: Marketing, Customer Support, Operations, Engineering, and Product. Each member of the group was an expert in their area and had previous experience in a product or feature roll-out. Also, we made sure that none of them were from a position of authority.

We relied on Marketing to get initial feedback to guide us on what we should build, and we turned to Engineering and Product to tell us what was possible and how quickly things could get done. Finally, we wanted to get something in the market quickly and that required some heavy lifting from Operations and Support.

Disadvantages of groups

Disadvantages of groups are most noticeable in companies that rely heavily on ‘group organization’ - such as real estate firms.

John Crossman, president of Crosman & Co says that due to large sales presence, many organizations in his industry do not function in teams simply because most salespeople need to work independently. He emphasized, however, that healthy real estate companies care deeply about encouraging teamwork.

John Crossman

I compare my role to being similar to coaching a track team rather than a football team. In football, the teammates are entirely dependent on one another. In track, most of the athletes are independent, but a good track coach trains his team to cheer for each other.

The biggest disadvantage of groups (in comparison to teams) is an individual accountability, which makes organization’s goal less important than personal. In the past, Crossman came across employees that were so focused on themselves and their results that they would fail to help the company:

I remember one day I flew to Atlanta to pitch a client. During the meeting, the potential client mentioned that his next door neighbor was our client. Later that day, I was meeting with my boss, when the partner came into the room. My boss said to him, “John came to town to pitch a client, and it turns out he is your neighbor. Why haven’t you pitched him before and mentioned John?” The partner did not miss a beat and said, “I don’t see why that would benefit me” and then changed the subject. After that meeting, I’ve stopped referring that partner’s business altogether.

Turning a group into a team

We already know what it takes to create a strong, performing team, but what about turning a group into a team?

When trying to transform a group into a team, you can face challenges that vary from member’s inability to cooperate, to creation of overly-jelled cliques that can be counterproductive for the whole company.

According to Ivan Dimitrov, an online marketing manager at Local Fame, his agency tried to transform their work group into a team by making one of the existing members a leader. Things didn’t go smoothly.

Ivan Dimitrov

In a group that’s becoming too big and there’s one dominant figure that’s doing a great work, you’d think that promoting that person is the obvious thing to do. However, transforming a group into a team is tricky. When someone in the group becomes the leader of the team, people start perceiving them differently. At that moment, a team leader needs to establish authority and find a balance in communication - otherwise, people will simply hate “the new boss.”

Since everyone hated newly appointed team leader, an upper management decided to support him.

Since the new boss proved himself through hard work in the past, I started to support his decisions - provided they were fair. When we were in front of the team, and he was obviously wrong, I tried to coach him and guide him in the right direction, but extremely gently. This showed everybody that he has the support of upper management and that people have to respect him and his decisions.

The support of upper management provided newly appointed leader with a boost of self-confidence. Consequently, he made better decisions and achieved better results with the team.

However, he will always remain “the one who used to be one of us.” People needed time to adjust, and even to this day some of them are not comfortable with the situation. Colleagues older than him or with more experience were particularly sensitive because they thought they know and deserve more. Today, on the other hand, the results of his team are great, and I can see that 90% of the people like, trust and are prepared to follow the guy. At the end of the day, that is all that matters.

Even though getting out of the broken elevator usually requires nothing more than the push of a button, in rare cases, there will be a need to climb into the elevator shaft. Getting a boost from people inside will help you make the climb with much less effort than trying to pull yourself up on your own. It may take some time, there might be some resistance, but with the right leadership and the right attitude, a dysfunctional group can become functional - and a functional group can become a team.

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