The Difference Between Groups and Teams

Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith in their 1993 book “The Wisdom of Teams” provide excellent, very usable distinctions among the kinds of groups currently operating in organisations. Here’s what they suggested were the differences:

1. Working group: No significant incremental performance need or opportunity that would require it to become a team. The members interact primarily to share information, best practices, or perspectives and to make decisions to help each individual perform within his or her area of responsibility. There is no call for either a team approach or a mutual accountability requirement.

2. Pseudo-team: This is a group for which there could be a significant, incremental performance need or opportunity, but it has not focused on collective performance and is not really trying to achieve it. It has no interest in shaping a common purpose or set of performance goals, even though it may call itself a team. Pseudo-teams are the weakest of all groups in terms of performance impact. In pseudo-teams, the sum of the whole is less than the potential of the individual parts.

They almost always contribute less to company performance needs than working groups because their interactions detract from each member’s individual performance without delivering any joint benefits. For a pseudo-team to have the option of becoming a potential team, the group must define goals so it has something concrete to do as a team that is a valuable contribution to the company.

3. Potential team: There is a significant, incremental performance need, and it really is trying to improve its performance impact. Typically it requires more clarity about purpose, goals, or work products and more discipline in hammering out a common working approach. It has not yet established collective accountability.

There are many potential teams in organisations. When a team (as opposed to a working group) approach makes sense, the performance impact can be high. The steepest performance gain comes between a potential team and a real team; but any movement up the slope is worth pursuing.

4. Real team: This is a small number of people with complementary skills who are equally committed to a common purpose, goals, and working approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable. Real teams are a basic unit of performance. The possible performance impact for the real team is significantly higher than the working group.

5. High-performance team: This is a group that meets all the conditions of real teams and has members who are also deeply committed to one another’s personal growth and success. That commitment usually transcends the team. The high performance team significantly outperforms all other like teams, and outperforms all reasonable expectations given its membership. It is a powerful possibility and an excellent model for all real and potential teams.

We’ve discussed Katzenbach’s ideas on many of our courses and managers always go away with a clearer insight into how and why they should be dealing with groups or teams.

Thanks again


Sean McPheat

Managing Director

MTD Training   | Image courtesy of Big Stock Photo

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Originally published: 24 January, 2011

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