Do You Have a Group or a Team?

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Much has been written about effective teams. But some people get confused as to what a team really is, let alone how to make it effective. As this Forbes article by Jeff Boss points out, titled "What You Don't Know About Teams May Be Hurting You", teams and groups are not the same thing.

In a true team, the people are joined in a mutual endeavor and will share the same fate. If someone doesn't do their part, the whole team can fail in the mission.

In contrast, with a group, the individuals can succeed or fail on their own merit without impacting the others in their group. In fact, with some groups, there's built-in competition, with individual incentives for those who achieve certain goals.

A department full of salespeople or business analysts, for example, is a group. Each person is likely working on something that bears no impact on the others in the slightest. However, one of the business analysts could also be serving on a project team.

Boss rightly points out that, for teams to be effective, there should be team-based (not individual) incentives, a team decision-making process, and shared goals. He also suggests building connection through better conversations. My dear friend and fellow author Judith E. Glaser wrote an excellent book on this topic alone, Conversational Intelligence, which I highly recommend. Stay tuned for a post with more on what Glaser calls C-IQ (Conversational IQ).

(Note: I was a founding member of Glaser's Creating WE Institute, an organization dedicated to helping organizations progress from a group of "I"s to a sense of "We," through research rooted in the crossroads of leadership and neuroscience.)

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In addition to team-based goals and incentives, team decision processes, and better conversations, I would cite complementary skills as a key component of effective teams as well. Think Star Trek's Enterprise crew, with Captain Kirk's boldness synergizing perfectly with Mr. Spock's logic. Or any other great team (fictional and otherwise), for that matter.

Noted author Patricia Fripp cites complementary talents as well in her article "A Team is More Than a Group of People".  (Side note: Fripp's brother Robert is the founder and lead guitarist for one of my favorite bands, King Crimson). 

What DOESN'T work is sending everyone to a single teambuilding workshop and expecting all the lessons to magically turn them into an elite team. However, soft skills training does help. So does making transformational changes toward a better team culture. Having the right mix of people doesn't hurt either.

As Robert Redford said, "Problems can become opportunities when the right people come together."


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Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn