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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Posted in Leadership, Organization Development (OD), Teams. Tags: , , , . Comments Off on Are You Leading a Team – or a Group Masquerading as a Team? (Part I)
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