Are You Leading a Team – or a Group Masquerading as a Team? (Part I)

Kevin P. Dincher

Your team can’t describe its mission?  Then maybe you are actually leading a “group” masquerading as a “team.”   Calling a group a “team” doesn’t make it so – and if you are a leader, knowing the difference between a “group” and a “team” needs to be more than a case of semantics.   “As a leader, it’s important to make this ‘Groups v Teams’ distinction.  Your approach to leading each will be completely different.   For managers to make better decisions about whether, when, or how to encourage and use teams, it is important to be more precise about what a team is and what it isn’t” (” target=”_blank”>The Discipline of Teams by Katzenbach and Smith) .   In other words, knowing whether you are leading a “group” or a “team” is critical to your success.

Workgroups Cooperate

You are leading a “group” if members are focused on successfully completing their own tasks.

  • They probably recognize themselves as a distinct unit or department tasked with fulfilling a particular function.
  • Membership in the group is task-determined:  functions are broken down into tasks, positions are created to perform those tasks and people are hired to fill those positions.
  • Members of groups work together cooperatively but relatively independently to accomplish the tasks and goals assigned to their positions.   Those goals, of course, are likely related to one another, but they are distinct.
  • Performance is generally an assessment of how well individuals perform and complete their own tasks and achieve their goals.

Leading a workgroup, therefore, generally focuses on assigning tasks and managing individual performance.

Teams Collaborate

Your “group” only becomes a “team” when everyone on the team can describe a common mission—and is focused on and committed to achieving that common mission.  If they can’t describe their common mission, then they may be a group masquerading as a team.

  • Like workgroups, teams see themselves as an identifiable unit.  They may  not be  structured as a traditional department because rather than carrying out a specific function a team is chartered with achieving a mission.
  • Membership on a team is most often determined by the skills, talents and expertise needed to achieve the mission rather than by position.
  • Team members don’t just cooperate; they collaborate.  This is more than the just the intersection of goals seen in cooperative workgroup; it is a deep, collective determination to reach an identical objective.  No one works independently; team members and team work are highly interdependent.
  • Teams are built on collective experience and competence—and no one succeeds simply by completing their own tasks.  Success and goals—both individual and collective—are met only when the common mission is achieved.

Leading a team is much more complex than leading a group.  Team work is rooted in a shared mission, focuses on collaboration and progresses through developing interactive relationships.  Communication, conflict resolution, employee development and culture building all require that team leaders possess a very different set of skills to facilitate the web of relationships between team members and between the team and its collective outputs.


Kevin Dincher is an organization development consultant, professional development coach and educator with 30 years of experience that includes not only OD consulting but also work in adult education,  counseling psychology and crisis management, program and operations management, and human resources.

LinkedIn: Kevin Dincher

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Calling a Group a Team Doesn’t Make it So

Kevin P. Dincher

Several of my clients in recent years have insisted on referring to their employees as a team and have pointed to how well their employees get along with one another as the metric of their effectiveness as a team.  This always reminds me of a story about Abraham Lincoln in That Brings to Mind, a collection of anecdotes (most of them probably apocryphal) complied by Ralph L. Marquard.

The Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln, was asked by a congressman why he hadn’t freed the slaves earlier in his term of office.  Lincoln replied that the time had not been right; he wouldn’t have been able to enforce the proclamation. The congressman was puzzles and didn’t understand what the president meant.  Lincoln explained with a question, “How many legs will a sheep have, if you call the tail a leg?” “Five,” responded the congressman.  “Not so,” said Lincoln wisely. “Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it so.”

Calling a group of employees a team doesn’t make them a team, no matter how well they get along.  They may just be a group of workers who really like one another—or at least have learned to pretend to like one another.

When does a “Group” become a “Team”?

A group becomes a team when:

1.  The members share a commitment to common purpose or mission with shared goals and objectives.

Members of a group generally have a common interest in goals that are given them by management, but team members share a common commitment to purpose.  Groups and teams have differing relationships with their reason for existing; that difference is this:  while management establishes the mission of the team, the teams establish ownership of their purpose and usually spend a great deal of time establishing and clarifying their purpose.

2.  Team membership is determined by skill sets rather than by position. 

In order to function as a team, members must possess complimentary skill sets—and all the skills needed to accomplish the team’s purpose must be included on the team.

3.  The members’ performance is measure by both individual contributions and collective work outcomes.

In groups, performance is generally measured by the work of individual members.  The performance of teams, however, depends on both individual contributions and collective work products—the joint outcome of team members working in concert.

 4.  The members hold themselves and one another accountable. 

Groups and teams have different relationships with management.  Group members respond to and are held accountable by management.  Managers determine specific goals, timing and the approach that the group will take.  By contrast, once management establishes the mission of a team and sets the challenge for the team to accomplish, the team possesses the freedom to manage itself.  Although the team needs to be responsive to demands from higher up, the team is free to establish its own goals, time and approach.

Since the 1960s, leaders of organizations have increasingly embraced the potential of teams and teamwork.  They have increasing relied upon teams to increase performance.  The conventional wisdom is that teams enable organizations to do things better, faster and cheaper—and in an era when employees seek more control over their work lives, working on a team increases employee satisfaction and retention

Teams are getting a great deal of attention in the workplace today.  But are you really working on a team—or is it really a work group just called by another name?


Kevin Dincher is an organization development consultant, professional development coach and educator with 30 years of experience that includes not only OD consulting but also work in adult education,  counseling psychology and crisis management, program and operations management, and human resources.

LinkedIn: Kevin Dincher

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Not Value Teamwork? Who Doesn’t Value Teamwork?

Kevin P. Dincher

In my last post (Team Building? Oh, No! Wait a Minute!) I wrote about some common reasons that team building efforts fail—an unskilled facilitator, poor planning, bad or inappropriate exercises and unclear goals—and said that one of the most common reasons that team building efforts fail is that you shouldn’t be doing team building in the first place.  There are some problems that cannot be solved by team building, and trying to solve them with some team building workshop or exercise is counterproductive.  We should not be using team building to deal with individual performance issues, when the problem is a lack of resources or to compensate for team members not having the skills—and we should not be planning a team building effort when the team has already had a bad experience of team building.

Some readers responded with a few other situations when they thought team building was not an appropriate intervention.  One in particular caught my attention:  when the organization does not actually value teamwork.

Not value teamwork?  Who doesn’t value teamwork?  Every organization values teamwork, right?  Well, maybe.

Increasingly the workplace is being organized around projects that are managed by teams.  But simply launching teams, holding an annual offsite retreat or organizing an occasional staff picnic or bocce tournament does not mean that your organization actually values teamwork.  How can you tell if an organization really values teamwork?

  1. Top leaders “talk the talk”.  Executive leaders clearly communicate their expectation that teamwork and collaboration are the norm.  (By the way, you can tell a lot about what leaders and managers really think nu checking out what books they have in their on their bookshelves.)
  2. Executives “walk the walk.”  They model teamwork in their own interactions with one another and with the rest of the organization.  And they maintain teamwork even when things are not going well rather than fall back into non-collaborative behavior.
  3. Employees talk naturally about teamwork and collaboration.  They understand and can identify the value of a teamwork culture, and collaboration is part of their vocabulary.  In a teamwork environment, people understand and believe that thinking, planning, decisions and actions are better when done cooperatively.  Is there a formal statement of company values?  Is teamwork is one of the top five values?
  4. Teamwork is recognized and rewarded.  Team successes are celebrated publicly—but the performance management system also acknowledges individual contributions to teamworkCompensation, bonuses, and rewards are tied as much to collaborative practices as to individual contribution and achievement.

So, does your organization actually value teamwork?


Kevin Dincher is an organization development consultant, professional development coach and educator with 30 years of experience that includes not only OD consulting but also work in adult education,  counseling psychology and crisis management, program and operations management, and human resources.

LinkedIn: Kevin Dincher

Posted in Organization Development (OD), Teams. Tags: , , . Comments Off on Not Value Teamwork? Who Doesn’t Value Teamwork?
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