Group vs team: What’s the difference?

Group vs team

We tend to use group and team interchangeably in our conversations. However, they are not the same. The easiest way to understand this difference is to think of a group of tourists, versus a football team. The tourists are together in a group with their own goals, while a football team has a shared goal, maybe to win a tournament. A group is more individualistic in nature, while a team brings in a sense of shared interest, responsibility, and accountability. The members of a team are more dependent on each other and they collaborate at a higher degree to achieve outcomes towards a common goal. Groups typically do not have any shared goals. Success and failure in a group setting are more individual, while it is more collective in a team setting.

This blog details a few of these differences to better understand the difference between a group and a team.

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Dependent vs Independent

Members of a group are independent of each other. They function as part of a group without depending on other members. On the contrary, members of a team are dependent on each other. Their tasks are interdependent. In the tourist group example, they are all there for their purpose. The interdependence is very limited. In a team setting, the output a centre forward (in football) can deliver is highly dependent on the assistance he or she gets from the midfielder who makes the play and passes the ball to the centre forward in a scoring position. If the midfielder fails, the centre forward is bound to fail, and as a result, the entire team fails to score a goal and win.

Collaboration vs Coordination

Imagine a group of tourists going around visiting places of interest. All the tourist guide needs is to coordinate well within the group to achieve a satisfactory outcome. They should arrive at a designated point on time, stay with the group, and follow other guidelines and all is fine. In a team setting, it is more of a collaborative environment than that of coordination. Team members need to collaborate effectively to achieve the common goal. Since the tasks are highly interdependent, the failure of even a single member can jeopardise the outcome for the entire team. However, in the case of a group, one member’s actions have limited influence on the outcome for the other members.

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Shared Responsibility

Interdependence and hence the need for collaboration also lead to a sense of collective responsibility and accountability in a team setting. Teams are interdependent, they pursue a common goal and hence are also judged as a collective. A group on the other hand is judged individually. There is no shared accountability in a group setting as their motivations, actions and outcomes are independent and individually driven. If one of the tourists misses the tourist bus, it is his fault and only he gets to suffer the consequences. It does not affect the other members of the tourist group at all. However, if a fielder drops a catch in cricket, the entire team suffers the consequences. Each individual in the team is thus answerable to all the other members of the team.

A team and a group each serve their specific purpose. It would be wrong to say that a team is always a desirable dynamic as compared to a group. In some cases, such as a tourist group, the group setting is probably the most efficient outcome. However, in the case of a football team, the team is the most efficient setting. Formation of teams in the true sense of the word takes much more effort than the formation of a group. We see ample examples where a team spirit is required however, the members work in an individualistic fashion, thus not being able to achieve the common goals. This phenomenon is seen quite frequently in corporate settings and even on the sports field.

The following aspects need to be kept in mind when developing a team spirit within a group of people.

– Shared goal or vision. A shared vision is a binding glue for building a team. Unless every member is aligned and motivated towards a common goal, team spirit will not exist. It is the key job of the leadership to create this common goal or vision. In corporate structures, vision and mission statements are formulated which binds disparate members into a common thread forming a cohesive team.

– Shared not individual accountability. Singling out individuals and putting the entire blame on them is group mentality and not team spirit. Accountability and judgement need to be at a collective team level and not at an individual level. Targeting of individuals is a frequent phenomenon which does extreme damage to the collective spirit of a team.

– Mutual Trust. One of the key factors binding a team together is trust. Team spirit can exist only when members trust each other.

– Team over individual. It is always the team over the individual. Individual goals and successes should not matter in a team setting. Only the team’s successes and goals must matter. Decisions that are beneficial to the team must be prioritised over decisions that benefit certain individuals.

– Participative. Opinions and decisions must be taken as a collective and not by certain individuals. A cohesive team spirit ceases to exist if only certain individuals take decisions and only their opinions matter. Such practices alienate the other members of the team, and the team ends up being more of a group than a team. A team must have room for any member to express their opinion, to disagree with the majority without any fear of any kind of consequences.

Given this understanding, we must be very mindful of when we use the terms group and team. When we call a group of people a team, we must measure ourselves over the above-mentioned parameters and evaluate whether a team spirit exists in a true sense, or is it just a group of people without any shared goals.

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