A bunch of people that push each other forward and work together for a common goal form a team. A number of people who work for the same organisation but have individual goals belong to a group. One of the biggest differences between a team and a group is that a team’s achievements always outweighs the sum of all the individuals’ accomplishments.
To better explain my point of view, I will break down my definition of a successful team into the categories below and close with what I believe the manager’s role should be.
Motivation: Purpose, Accountability, and Goals
People in a group are very likely to be sold a goal. Depending on their professionalism, they will push themselves to achieve great outcomes and they will strive to be honest. Any failures or imperfections are forgettable and are perceived to be short-term. Accountability applies at personal level. In this context, the motivation for an individual is most often extrinsic.
In a team, the goals are set together through discussions, planning, and by sharing a common definition of success. The team has personality. Since the goal is shared, they push each other forward and hold each other accountable. Due to the fact that they collaborate closely they often end up raising the bar of expectations for each other in order to deliver better results at both personal and team level. Team players are intrinsically motivated.
Collaboration and Roles
In a work group, people share information, they are respectful with one another, and sometimes even behave in a formal way. Meetings sometimes turn into status reporting. Peoples’ ideas don’t always get challenged or augmented. There’s hardly ever any work done outside one’s area of expertise. The skills overlap is kept to a minimum, almost as a sign of respect. Personal development is determined by one’s own desire to better themselves rather than as a need to fill a gap. A designer is always a designer and a tester is always a tester. The Gantt1 chart for how a project runs is clear-cut. Task B always follows task A and never comes after task C.
In a team, the collaboration is not just close, but from the outside it may even look chaotic. There is energy and people often venture beyond the limit of their skill. Developers and testers may end up sketching design approaches. Designers may roll up their sleeves and help with testing. Product owners will join the designers in user testing. Personal development is often done in a way that completes the collective knowledge. A tester may learn to use prototyping tools, while a designer may learn how to work with development tools. Each person may wear the hat of any of the other team mates and may jump in when their help is required. In a Team, tasks A,B, and C may take place at the same time and make a project manager’s life a living hell.
The Manager’s role
In a work group, the manager is almost a dictator (sets the goals, measures progress, and is the only one who can push a member’s limits). In a team, the manager is merely a guide and a facilitator.
All teams start off as a group. It’s a manager’s job to create an environment where people:
- feel safe
- speak freely
- are comfortable with themselves and can be genuine
so that they can discover each other’s strengths, accept the weaknesses, and, over time, build trust.
1 Disclosure: I really don’t believe in Gantt charts.