group vs team

Group vs. team: What's the difference?

Reading time: about 5 min


  • Agile and project planning

When a task calls for collaboration, assembling the right people to tackle the job is the first step to success, but it's only half the battle. A successful project manager must also ensure that their unit is functioning in the most efficient way possible--namely by working as either a group or a team. 

But is a group and a team the same thing? Not quite.  Both types of collectives can achieve distinct goals and help predict how exactly to accomplish a task. Often, you may believe a project is being accomplished with a team system in place when members are working as a group. 

The difference between the two working methods isn't always clear, but the distinction is quite important and business leaders must know the difference between what makes a successful group and a team at the onset of a new assignment. 

What is a group?

A group is a working method in which members of a unit work on separate tasks as individuals that ladder up to a larger, collective objective. 

When distinguishing what makes a group, it's helpful to think of a subway car. A group of people get on a subway car at the same station and are headed in the same direction. They are a unit with a shared goal but are traveling as individuals and for different reasons. As the subway arrives at various stations down the line, individuals break off and exit, while some remain and continue their journey. 

A similar dynamic is at play in a group setting. A workplace group consists of one leader (we'll call this person the subway conductor, keeping with our metaphor) who sets the group in a direction with a shared end goal. However, the group members act as individuals who are independent of the other "passengers" accomplishing divergent tasks. 

What is a team?

A team comprises individuals with a shared goal whose tasks rely on one another. Simply put, teams work interdependently with one another. 

Team members complete tasks as individuals and as part of the collective unit with shared responsibilities and accountability. Working closely with team members is the core concept of a successful team. Team members work together to uplift and support each other's strengths and expertise to reach the collective end goal.

In keeping with our subway car metaphor, a team mentality is akin to the subway conductor team who work collectively to ensure the safe transportation of the passengers on board, which can only happen through collective effort and a shared duty.

What is the same about groups and teams?

There are common goals and functions for both groups and teams. The first is that they are both utilized to engage more than one person to tackle a set of obstacles. 

In both groups and teams, the collective effort of the unit serves to accomplish a shared goal. Clear communication and interaction between members are a must for both. Both systems have focused leadership roles that delegate tasks to the members of the unit. These assignments are completed by members and collectively accomplish the group's mission. 

Information and resources are shared among the group, whether a top-down delegation (in a group setting) or a more collaborative brainstorming/discussion setting (in a team dynamic). Leadership tracks progress and communicates further work and objectives until the team reaches the end goal.

What is the difference between a group and a team? 

A lot can be accomplished by working collectively. How to work collectively depends largely on the type of projects and goals your organization hopes to achieve. This nuance is where it’s important to understand the distinction between a group and a team. 

There are two main differences between a group and a team: accountability and collaboration. 

Each dynamic has pros and cons depending on the end goals and needs being addressed:

Setting and accomplishing goals 

While groups are individually responsible for goals and personal progress, teams are built on mutual accountability toward a shared goal or project vision. A group's work is judged independently from larger organizational goals and is also distributed individually to optimize workflow efficiency. 

Evaluating success

Team members are dependent on one another and their efforts are collectively evaluated. Progress is also tracked as a team. Team systems often utilize brainstorming sessions and discussions among the unit.  Problem-solving is a shared responsibility, whereas group effectiveness is measured indirectly and usually once an individual's task is complete. 

Establishing roles and responsibilities

Responsibilities and even leadership roles are often shared in a team environment, whereas group settings often feature one clear leader. Groups are most effective when one clear and focused leader can delegate tasks to the unit. Group dynamics tend to tackle obstacles quickly and efficiently as they focus on individualized strengths. They are also helpful when a project has no clear conclusion or deadline. 

Facilitating decision-making

Team settings tend to create an environment where the assembled unit feels a sense of shared ownership over their work. Decision-making is a flexible, collaborative process where everyone is encouraged to be engaged in and contribute to the team's success. Teams are also most successful when multiple leaders are involved and a set deadline is established. 

Business leaders realized long ago that two heads are better than one, but they also recognized plenty of ways to activate groups and teams to accomplish goals. Whether engaging a team in a collaborative process to reach a finite end goal or delegating tasks to a group to play to each of their individualized strengths, both systems can be effectively implemented and utilized to increase your business's opportunities for success.

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