Teams vs Teamwork

Been a member of a team recently? Ever? Are you sure? Do you know what a team is? Do you know the difference between an team and a group exercising teamwork skills? Have you ever wondered if the “team” you were in was really a team?

My purpose in this article is not to tell you how to form a team – but to help you recognize when you have a team and when you don’t. Too often managers think that they’ve got a team – when they don’t. They have not provided the necessary fuel for the team fire and in reality have a group of individuals executing teamwork skills.

These managers are disappointed in the performance of the “team” – and don’t understand why the “team” isn’t performing at a high performance rate. They may blame the members. They may blame themselves. They may blame their bosses.

Many people confuse the occurence of teamwork with actually having a team. Teamwork skills are readilly learned and easily identified by workers and managers. Some major teamwork skills include listening, questioning, persuading, respecting, helping, sharing and participating. These are all great skills to use in daily work to get things accomplished with other people.

A group of people exercising these skills are not necessarily a team. In fact, it is most likely just a group of people exercising teamwork skills individually.

What differentiates such a group from an actual team? This begs the question – what is a team? My favorite definition of a team is from Jeffery Katzenbach: “A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.”

Without purpose, goals and approach – you have a group of people. Getting people to commit to purpose, goals and approach are the elements that forge a team. Teams don’t last forever – they last as long as they are needed. Once purpose, goals and approach are no longer binding a team together – it dissolves into a group.

The reality is – maybe there is no need for a team.

Not all projects require a team. Some projects require a group of people to commit to individual goals – and reasonable results will occur.

Trying to get team behaviour out of a group that does not need to be a team will only frustrate the members and waste the leader’s time.

You do not have a team when:
1) Members say “Yes” all the time
2) No one raises objections to taking shortcuts on quality
3) Members are not concerned about schedule
4) Members follow managerial direction without improvements or questions – to avoid risk of responsibility for those changes – playing it safe
5) Managers/leaders focus on superficial aspects of teamwork (e.g. getting along, working overtime, being positive, working hard) instead of the core aspects (purpose, goals, approach)
6) Members don’t talk with one another about progress
7) Leader does not talk informally with members on a regular and frequent basis

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