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Is Your Group Really a Team?

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Teams are all the rage in the workplace today, and every organization I know speaks of the importance of teams. But just because a group of people work together does not necessarily make them a team. There are essential elements that identify teams, and nurturing them will help you become a good team leader.

What You Need to Know to Be a Team Leader

Teams are all the rage in the workplace today, and every organization I know speaks of the importance of teams. But just because a group of people work together does not necessarily make them a team. There are essential elements that identify teams, and nurturing them will help you become a good team leader.



Beyond the Buzz Word
Let's begin with a definition of what a team really is. Teams are groups of individuals who accomplish designated objectives by working interdependently, communicating effectively, and making decisions that impact their day to day work. So the first question to ask your self is, "How close does my team come to this definition?" If it doesn't measure up to the definition, then you are not really leading a team. You are probably managing a work group.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with a work group. A work group can achieve great results with your close supervision. The idea, however, in today's changing organization and our competitive global marketplace, is to develop teams that can work autonomously without your close direction and support.

In a team, members share decision-making and often build consensus, with two-way communication between manager and members. There are joint work assignments and accountability on both the individual and team levels.


In a work group, the manager is the decision-maker, and there is a one-way, top-down pattern of communication. Each member has individual work assignments, and each person is held accountable and appraised by the manager.

Three Measures: Team or Work Group?

Whether you operate as a work group or a team depends on three factors.

The skill and motivational level of members. Skilled and motivated employees need to be able to make decisions on their own and communicate upwardly when they need to. This is a model for working as a team.

The nature of the work. Some work situations do not call for members to make decisions together, nor is there a need for much two way communication among team members and their manager. But if there is a need for both, you have a team.

The manager's belief that individuals can work autonomously and interdependently. This attitude is essential for today's workplace. When managers do not hold this belief, they will favor the work group over the team.

Five Keys to Team Spirit
In order to get a group of individuals to function as a team, five keys need to be present. Missing one of these keys can prevent a team from achieving full health.

Clearly defined goals, roles, and responsibilities. Every team member needs to know what he or she is supposed to accomplish and how it fits in with what other team members do.

Open and honest communication among all team members. Team members cannot hold back on any comments that will help the team grow and prosper.

A supportive and knowledgeable team manager/leader. The team leader has to have the technical knowledge of what the team is doing, as well as be able to motivate and inspire the team.

Decision-making authority for daily work. Members must be allowed to make decisions that impact their work products and services. When we give people ownership over what they are doing, they perform much better.

Rewards and recognition for accomplishing goals. Without rewards and recognition, teams will not sustain high levels of performance. Members need ongoing reminders that their efforts are valued and appreciated.

Your Next Step
At your next team meeting, talk about these five keys of team spirit and ask your team to rate themselves on each one. Their answers will let you know if they see themselves as a work group or a team, and where their strengths and weaknesses are. It will make for a great discussion.

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