Groups vs. Teams

In your work environment are you part of a group or part of a team? The distinction is an important one when we talk about teacher buy-in to learning communities and networks. Katzenbach and Smith (1993) make the distinction pretty clear. Groups are collections of individuals placed in a common area to complete a task. A team is a smaller collection committed to a common purpose.

Consider a group of runners completing a 10K. They aren’t working as a team. Each individual has set out their personal goals and is, in effect, running their own race. They just happened to be gathered in the same place at the same time, running the same distance. Those are the only things that really bind them together.

A hockey team on the other hand is a much smaller collection of individuals gathered together for a common purpose. Members have a complimentary skill set and are committed to a common purpose. Sometimes this works, like in the case of the Edmonton Oilers in the 1980’s. Sometimes it falls flat when you compile a group of very talented individuals that haven’t had a lot of time together. We think that All-Star teams, by definition, will be the equivalent of the sum of their parts. Sometimes it is, often it isn’t. The New York Yankees have had the best team on paper for a number of years. They only have two World Championships in the last 12 years.

When we create learning communities and networks we often form teams or are placed in teams. Are these really teams or are they groups? All teams are groups, but teams are a special subset of groups. Just calling something a team doesn’t make it one.

I’m not suggesting that one is bad and the other is good. It is important to know which one you are part of to help with the dynamics. It’s as important for everyone else to know what they are part of. Are you part of a grade team or a grade group? Are you co-teaching or are you team teaching? Is your learning network a group or a team? What about your online communities? Can a virtual community be a team?

If you really want to develop true teams then you need to spend some time working on the Seven Norms of Collaboration. Groups and teams are very different animals and need to be recognized as such. Be aware that you may be calling something a team, or be part of a team that is really operating as a group.


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