Groups vs Teams

Groups vs Teams

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

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While the term team fits the definition of group, not all groups can be defined as a team.

The term group is defined as, “…two or more individuals, interacting and interdependent, who have come together to achieve particular objectives (Robbins and Judge, 2010).” Group interaction seems to be a naturally occurring function of human behavior. Group behavior and formation permeates every area of human existence forming both informally and formally. This dynamic of behavior extends into the workplace can create complex patterns of behavior that is often a source of confusion for manager and workers. This confusion is often formed as a result of misunderstanding group and team behavior.

While the term team fits the definition of group, not all groups can be defined as a team. For instance peer groups are groups in which people share a particular stature or relationship with similar individuals. Within the workplace a peer group might consist of a group of coworkers which share similar jobs and authority level. These peers share the common element of their work position and therefore can relate on topics such as workplace rules, culture, and many other areas of common interest.

Teams on the other hand are defined as a group which shares a common goal or goals. Teams may function to accomplish specific goals such as projects that involve multiple personnel. For instance a sales team might work on a project which enhances overseas business through campaign development. Within this framework team goals are understood as being specific and often temporary. This is often the point which creates the most confusion for managers and organizations in general.

Many companies call workgroups or departments ‘teams’ however, this is a misnomer. A department might have many common goals or is designated with a task or mission but this does not make it a team.

…one important point to remember is that groups and teams are not exactly the same thing. A work group interacts primarily to share information and make decisions to help each member perform within his or her area of responsibility. In contrast, a work team generates positive synergy through coordinated effort (Robbins and Judge, 2010).

This confusion can be detrimental to corporate culture. Many organizations use the term team loosely for departments but because these groups are not teams they lack the direction and synergy. At best these work groups are collections of individuals performing individual functions in order to accomplish the departments task. This can create a negative culture within a company because when the term team is used loosely in this manner, individual workers are disappointed when they look to people in their department and they do not receive the assistance they request. A perfect example of this problem can be seen in sales departments. Managers will refer to everyone in the department as a team in order to foster a spirit of cooperation but this attempt often falls flat because of the obvious contradictions in the definitions and reality. Team members work together to accomplish goals whereas in the case of a sales group the member of the group are working to accomplish individual sales goals. This is especially true where employees are working for commission. Members of the sales department are working in a group with common interests and similar jobs but by nature of the jobs they are independent and mostly in competition for sales. Simply speaking, calling a group a team will not make it one.

There are other factors that affects team dynamics. One of the most important factors is the concept of diversity. Diversity is an ever increasing issue of importance in the workplace due to globalization. As the result of globalization, people from all different backgrounds and cultures are now being brought together in team settings. Diversity is a dichotomy of positive and negative outcomes. On the one side diversity can tear a team apart. Cultural differences and ethnocentric thinking can create hostile work environments. The voice of certain individuals either based upon gender, cultural, or ethnic differences, is drowned out by group bias or prejudice. The concept of diversity is said to be key to a team since it draws upon the entire resources of the individuals composing the team.

Diversity includes the entire spectrum of primary dimensions of an individual, including, Race, Ethnicity, Gender, Age, Religion, Disability, and Sexual orientation (N.D. 2010).

Thus from this perspective the team dynamic is enhanced by the diversity of its individuals. While this idea sounds nice and is professed to be true by many scholars, not all experts are in agreement on this concept. Diversity seems to be a popular buzzword amongst academics and managers but is this really a true dynamic of team success?

The measure of team success is often weighed by these factors:

1. adequate resources
2. the proper leadership and structure
3. a climate of trust
4. effective performance evaluation and reward systems (Robbins and Judge, 2010).

Studies have shown that a leader’s attitude and mood can have the greatest impact on team success. While diversity is necessary to a manager’s understanding of the workforce it might not be as important to team dynamics. There are certain aspects to diversity which are troubling as well. For instance, some cultures do not value equality in genders and these individuals sharing positions on teams with women could create barriers to the team process. This problem highlights a logical problem is diversity theory in that proponents of diversity tend to overlook negative aspects of individual diversity and only concentrate on the aspects they find productive to the team. This is contradictory and fallacious since the very concept of diversity theory rests on the idea of differences being useful. If we cherry pick which attributes of cultural differences we wish to incorporate than this is not diversity and defeats the purpose of this thinking.

Team dynamics and group dynamics vary by purpose and individual thinking. In the workplace the team success can be altered merely by recognizing certain factors such as quality leadership and focus of task. The understanding of team and group as different phenomena can create an environment more conducive to the members roles in varying group or team dynamics. The subtle differences in team and group understanding can have profound impact on the effectiveness of an organization.


Vango Notes for Organizational Behavior, 12th edition by Stephen P. Robbins and Timothy Judge. Chapter 9: Foundations of Group Behavior Section 1: Big Ideas

Best Practices In Achieving Workforce Diversity U.S. Department Of Commerce And Vice President Al

N.D. (2010) Gore’s National Partnership For Reinventing Government Benchmarking Study

Photo by Mayur on Unsplash


Vincent Triola. Tue, Jan 12, 2021. Groups vs Teams Retrieved from

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