Groups and Teams are different things. Why do we use the term ‘Project Team’ when we haven’t actually turned the ‘Group’ of people into a ‘Team’?

In fact, why do Universities, who should be preparing graduates for business life, continue with ‘Group-Work’ when it should be ‘Team-Work’?

The APM define Teamwork as:

Teamwork is a group of people working in collaboration or by cooperation towards a common goal.

Tuckman’s Model

Bruce Tuckman developed a model for team development in the 1960’s. It suggested 4 stages of group development:

  • Forming. A team develops from a group, and in this stage the ‘Forming’ team are a group. A group of people who do not know what is required, do not know each other, and do not want to make a fool of themselves, so they may be polite and reserved.
  • Storming. A group that are challenging their objectives and expected behaviours. Why are we doing this? Why not that? Turning up late to meetings, potential inappropriate behaviour, looking to challenge any ground rules (which may not yet be set). Communication may be loud, critical, and/or unprofessional. There may be sub-groups forming or two leaders challenging each other.
  • Norming. The ground rules are set, the behaviours are aligned. People start to know and trust each other. Communication becomes professional.
  • Performing. People now support each other. They trust each other, and share information to support the team goals. Moreover, they support each other – and help out for the good of the team.

Adjourning was added in 1977

  • Adjourning. The phase where the team is broken up because the project is completed. This phase is sometimes referred to as ‘Mourning’ as people remember the good times they had, and move on to an uncertain future (and a new team).

Mourning brings its own issues. My experience is with automotive teams, that may be together for 2, 3, or 4 years or even longer. After this length of time, team members have become ‘experts’ in a particular area of that project. Moving to a new project means that they become equals with other new team members. This may make project team members ‘invent’ work to keep them busy on the project, rather than move on.

Belbins Team Model

One of the most famous models for team roles was developed by Meredith Belbin in the 1970’s. Belbin suggested that a high-performing team contained people fulfilling 9 roles:

  • Plant
  • Coordinator
  • Resource Investigator
  • Shaper
  • Team worker
  • Monitor Evaluator
  • Implementor
  • Completer Finisher and
  • Specialist

Whilst this blog is about groups and teams (rather than teams), I have written about Belbin in a later blog. However, I do have experiences of my own Belbin profile changing to suit the job role I was required to fulfill at certain stages of my career. I also have experience of successful teams being broken up because individuals were seen to be better than they were in reality.

Time for Team Development

It takes weeks and months to develop a true team. This is compounded by some team members progressing rapidly, and some more slowly through the process. Imagine a few members ‘Storming’ whilst others are still in the polite and reserved ‘Forming’ stage.

Whilst I have run 5 day residential training courses where delegates exhibit the characteristics of Tuckman, I doubt that a true performing team has developed in that time.

Mondays: Forming. Quiet, nobody knows each other, nobody wants to make a fool of themselves, and nobody knows what the other people know

Tuesday: Forming. People are starting to talk with each other and socialise in the breaks. People understand that they are here for the same course, with the same or similar problems.

Wednesday: Storming. Another group exercise, and a request from a delegate not to have to work with Mr. X again.

Friday – demob happy, fun, laughter. Visual displays of trust and knowing each other – but in reality it doesn’t matter as these people may never see each other again.

The delegate group have not become a team! It takes many weeks and months to progress through the phases. It is the role of the project leader to encourage, and accelerate the journey from ‘Forming’ through to ‘Performing’.

Agile Teams

Agile Teams are different. The iterative nature of the Agile Project Management method is that tasks to be completed are discussed in terms of the next 1 or 2 weeks. Therefore, tasks more than a few weeks away are not particularly defined well, so setting up a defined team is not possible.

Agile works by creating a group of experts dedicated and capable of delivering tasks. Inherent to the Agile Methodology is trust, empowerment, flexibility and collaboration – all key aspects of team working. In this respect, agile is more of a culture and organisational change than a project management methodology.

The team work occurs at the regular daily Stand-Up or Scrum meetings and whilst the team delivers during the sprint cycle.

Agile Team Swarming

One method an agile team uses to solve problems is “Swarming”. This is where the team focus (swarm) on a problem, and help each other (team working) solve it. Swarming works well when the team know each other well, understand strengths and weaknesses, and are prepared to help each other; this has already been mentioned as prerequisite for an agile approach.

Swarming is needed to deliver particular and important aspects or features required by the customer at the end of a sprint cycle.

The Differences Between Groups and Teams

Groups and teams are different things. Generalising, a group has different characteristics to a team:

  • A group is a collection of individuals with no common goal, individual objectives, who don’t trust each other and therefore keep information to themselves. They are the ‘Forming’ team.
    • Imagine a group of people entering an elevator. All with the objectives of different floors, and no need to make chit-chat with the people they do not know in the elevator car.
  • A team is a collection of individuals with a common purpose and shared and agreed objectives. These people trust each other, and therefore share information between the team to help each other achieve the common objective.
    • Imagine that the elevator breaks down between floors. All of a sudden these people have a common objective, and a need to communicate and share resources to achieve that objective. Escape!
Groups and Teams

Groups and Teams

Characteristics of Groups

Here are some characteristics of a group:

  • Information is given sparingly
  • Feelings are suppressed
  • Conflict is accepted
  • Trust is guarded
  • People work for themselves
  • Objectives may be unclear
  • Failure is often blamed on others
  • Goals may be personal
  • Leadership may not be apparent
  • Early stage of a team
  • People will be guarded/apprehensive
  • There may be more than 1 leader
  • Fire Fighting is a visible activity
  • It appears to be organised chaos
  • Amateur
  • No senior Management support
  • Day-to-day

Are these characteristics evident on your project?

Characteristics of Teams

Here are some characteristics of a Team:

  • People work for each other
  • Information is shared openly
  • Feelings are expressed
  • Conflict is worked through
  • Trust is share
  • Objectives are always clear
  • Success and failure are shared
  • Goals are common to all
  • Good leadership prevails
  • Clear roles
  • Balanced skills / personal characteristics
  • Trust
  • Know & help each other
  • Clear leadership
  • Agreed strategy to achieve goal
  • Solves problems
  • Professional approach.
  • Friendly / Fun
  • Senior management support

If your project team are not performing, this list may give you some ideas to focus on for improvement.

The Importance of Groups and Teams

A team is so much more than a group. A team can achieve more than the sum of the individuals involved.It is the role of the project leader to create an environment for people to develop from a group into a team.

So, groups and teams. Are you managing a group of individuals on your project? Or have you planned progression of your group towards a performing project team?

Perhaps it is time to use the phrase ‘Group’ and ‘Team’ with more caution. Groups and Teams are different things, regardless of the titles we may place on them.


Posted On: 5th June 2018

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