May 2, 2016

A Real Definition of a Team – How Does Your Team Measure Up?


The term team gets thrown around a lot. Everyone seems to want to be on a team (for good reason, as it has been proven that teams out perform individuals).

This designation seems to be placed on every group, but is every group really a team? There are many definitions for a team. The most common (and simplest) I’ve come across is the acronym T.E.A.M., which stands for:

Together
Everyone
Achieves
More

The keyword in this statement is “together,” but does the simple fact that you are together really equate to being a team? I am together with people eating in a restaurant; I am together with people in my neighborhood; I am together with people at the ball game. Though we may be together for the same reasons, this hardly makes us a team.

Translate this to the workplace. Does being together in an organization, program, ministry, or department make you a team? Some may say “yes”, but I would argue they would be reaching. Again, being together for the same purpose does not automatically indicate the existence of a team. A large group of people who have been assembled to for a common purpose or to work toward a common cause are co-workers, not necessarily a team. Within an organization, the reality may be that there are multiple small teams rather than one giant team, and that’s okay. It makes much more sense to allow these smaller teams to function at full capacity rather than to concentrate on one large team that is only a team in name, but not in function or performance.  This misunderstanding creates confusion in the workplace and diminishes the value and true nature of real teams.

Non-teams include:

  • Organization – people who belong to one entity.
  • Program – people who belong to one process.
  • Ministry – people who belong to one cause.
  • Department – people who belong to one function.
  • Work Groups – people doing the same thing or people responsible for different parts of the same thing, but not dependent on one another.

However, teams can and should exist within each of these “non-team” groups.

We’ve looked at the most common definition of a team. Now let’s take a look at what I believe to be the best definition. It comes from the book The Wisdom of Teams (1993) by Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith: “A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they are mutually accountable.”  The definition continues as a checklist. If the following components exist (or could exist with development), then you are a team.

  • A Small Number – this means more like 2-8, not 20-30.
  • Complementary Skills – Their responsibilities, output, and varying perspectives help one another.
  • Committed to a Common Purpose – They have one goal (or several) they share for the purpose of that team.
  • Committed to Common Performance Goals – They use the same scorecard.
  • Committed to Common Approach – They use the same tools and agree to the same path of action.
  • Mutually Accountable – They trust and rely on one another, as well as openly challenge those on the team who are not doing their part.

So the question remains – are you on a team? You may be a part of several common purposed groups. Spend this week evaluating each one. Ask yourself if they are truly teams or simply co-worker situations. If any or all are actually teams, then evaluate how well your group performs as a team. What are the gaps and what steps can you take to help the team perform more effectively?  Should you determine any of the groups of which you are a part truly does not qualify as a team, that’s okay!  Acknowledge it. Instead of trying to force a team into being, try developing personal skills that will enhance job knowledge, collaboration, and acumen.

by Ricky Escobar

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