If there is one thing I’ve learned in management over the years, it is that the word “Team” is highly overused and misused. The word “team” in organizations has been used to describe any group of people who report in a hierarchy to one single person. It is limiting our ability to see other types of workgroups as “teams”. It is also causing us to force workgroups to operate as teams when the more effective approach would be to let them operate as groups.

In its truest sense, the word “team” has a very specific meaning. “Teams” are synergistic – they produce a total that is greater than the sum of its parts. They consist of a group of people who:
1. Share a common goal (or goals)
2. Have interdependent roles and responsibilities with one another
3. Hold a common behavioural approach and action plan to achieving the goal

Teams therefore are a group of people with a shared mandate, who rely on each other to be successful individually, and who must work together to accomplish the task at hand. Sports teams are the ultimate example of the definition of team.

You, on the other hand, might relate more to the definition of a workgroup. Workgroups often arise when one leader has a conglomerate of direct reports, none of whose roles have anything to do with anyone else’s role in the group. Workgroups consist of a group of people who:
1. Have individual, unrelated goals
2. Work independently from one another because they have no need for interdependence in accomplishing their goals
3. Can develop their own unique work approach to achieving their goal, and nobody else will care

Consider the example of the US Olympic Track and Field “team”. Together, they have a common goal of getting the most track and field gold metals at the Olympics. They rely on every individual athlete to perform to their greatest abilities, and they have a shared training and emotional preparation approach to getting the job done.

Within the Olympic team, however, there are sub-components that consist of teams and of groups. Two examples are the relay team, and the group of sprinters. The relay team creates synergy – they have a common goal of winning their race, they are interdependent on one another to pass the baton, and they work closely together to train and prepare for the big event. The sprinting group on the other hand are each in it for their own individual glory. They race alone. Now think about what each produces in total output. The synergy of the relay team allows them to run longer distances at a faster rate than four individual sprinters running alone. That is the magic of a “team”. They produce a total that is greater than the sum of the parts.

Workgroups can often function highly effectively without much need for team meetings and team building events. Teams on the other hand require a higher frequency of communication and problem solving. Group members can often get along just fine setting their annual performance objectives and doing performance reviews one-on-one with their boss. Teams on the other hand should be encouraged to set annual team and individual objectives together, and should be meeting regularly to check on their collective progress towards those objectives.

With this new understanding of teams and groups, you can now take hierarchy out of the equation. Organizations are increasingly becoming what I call “teaming” organizations. Workgroups of cross-functional individuals who report to different people, coming together on projects or in processes to produce an output that no one of them could produce individually. By coming together, their job is to produce the output in the most efficient and highest quality way possible.

What do they do? They form a “team”, for whom the “leader” is often the key sponsor of the project or process. This is important because the “leader” may in fact have people on the team who are at the same or higher levels than he/she in the hierarchy. The leader is responsible for:
1. Gaining everyone’s buy-in to the common objective – even people who don’t report directly to him/her in the hierarchy.
2. Ensuring everyone is clear on their role and the role of each other person on the team. Especially to ensure everyone understands where the interdependencies are so that any bottlenecks are resolved before or immediately as soon as they become a problem.
3. Co-creating an action plan (or project plan or process map) and common behavioural approach with the team. The leader must call meetings of all the team members to set action plans, solve problems together, and check progress on their objectives.

Organizations are made up of many complex structures and people. It is ok to have both teams and groups in the hierarchy. It is also ok to have “teams” that span different areas of the hierarchy. Look at the people you lead and decide for yourself in what ways you are being a “group leader” or a “team leader”. Whatever your situation, make sure you are using the most suitable process for managing the people assigned to you.

Author's Bio: 

Mary Legakis is a global management coach expert based in Toronto, Canada. As The Management Coach, she helps ambitious managers and aspiring executives get personal, professional and organizational results – faster. Visit here for more information of our website http://www.managementcoach.ca/

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