The Difference between Groups and Teams | TechWell

The Difference between Groups and Teams

Foosball table photo by Pascal Swier

Over the course of my career, I’ve contributed to teams across a variety of contexts. But not until the last year or two did I begin to understand what a team is and how this is distinctly different from a group. My realization was that most of the work I’d done had been as part of a group. The difference was not purely semantics; it was one of mission.

Currently I lead a cross-functional product team composed of several roles. Wherever personnel exists with multiple roles from different departments and management lines, there’s a risk of conflicting goals unintentionally working against each other.

There are several questions to explore here: What are the goals of the software engineers? What are the testers’ goals? Do these two lists present any unhealthy conflicts, or do they support a set of shared objectives?

As a simplified example, let’s say I primarily measure my testers’ value by tracking the number of defects they report. If that’s the case, I should be aware of the possibility that they may focus their energy on nitpicking in order to inflate their bug count rather than target their testing efforts with the customer experience in mind.

How does this relate to the differentiation between a group and a team? To first define them clearly in my own words, a group is a number of individuals working together to get something done, while a team is a set of people who share the same purpose. The team values its purpose above any specific goals related to roles.

If testers are logging a lot of defects to inflate their bug count and justify their value to their manager, we’re off base. If testers happen to log a lot of defects while serving a shared team goal of deploying defect-free software to its customers, we’re on the right track. But it also means the work of people in development and continuous integration must serve that same shared goal. In order to be a team, they all must approach their work with deploying defect-free software in mind.

Not every job to be done requires a team. There are plenty of times when a group does just fine. But I encourage you to take a hard look at your employees’ goals if what you’re aiming for sounds closer to the definition of team, where a set of individuals share their values and deliver with a unified purpose.

Jason Wick is presenting the session Leave Behind Us vs. Them: Transforming a Product Team at the STAREAST 2018 conference, April 29–May 4 in Orlando, FL.

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