How To Turn a Group into a Team

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Have you ever said something like, “Remember, we’re a team.” What did you mean? Most so-called “teams” are not teams at all, and usually when we hear words like “teamwork” or “team spirit,” we have in mind certain behaviors and attitudes that are helpful, but that don’t define a team.

Qualities like the ability to listen and empathize with others, mutual respect, openness, and dialog are all important, but they don’t make a team. All of these qualities can be present in different types of non-team groups such as support groups, recovery groups, and even prayer groups, but these are not teams.

Your group needs four characteristics to become a team:

  1. Complimentary skills. Teams are made up of people with different, yet complimentary, skills. Each team member adds something to the group. These differences may relate to work skills, personality types, ethnic and cultural differences, age differences, or gender differences. But it’s not just difference for its own sake. Diversity has a purpose. A true team has learned to value and depend on this diversity as each member contributes his or her unique skills to compliment the work of the entire team.
  2. A shared purpose. “Where there is no vision, the people perish,” so writes the author of Proverbs (29:18). Some groups get together without a purpose. To turn such a group into a team, help them identify their reason for existence. When this happens, the team gains energy and focus. To get more out of your teams, help them define their vision.
  3. Shared performance goals. This is the characteristic that really defines a team. By definition, if a group lacks shared performance goals, it is not a team. This may sound harsh and seem too narrow. It’s not about being narrow, just precise in our use of language. When the members of a true team get together, they focus almost completely on getting something done.
  4. A shared approach. Some groups start out with the idea of getting something accomplished, but never seem to make progress. They become bogged down with conflicts of opinion, stalled negotiation, and uncoordinated efforts. This is because the team has not developed a set of processes or guidelines to govern how the members will work together. If you want your team to accomplish its goals and not end in frustration, establish at the start, a set of rules of engagement and ask everyone to sign it.

Teams are not the solution for every situation. Sometimes, all you need or want is a work group. A work group is a group of people who get together to share ideas, compare insights, or make suggestions to help each other improve in some way.

Being precise in our terminology is valuable. Words such as “teams,” “teamwork,” and “team spirit” are sometimes thrown around carelessly. If you want to form a team, make sure you have all four ingredients–or call it something else.

3 thoughts on “How To Turn a Group into a Team

  1. It was interesting that you didn’t focus on the leader in this piece given leadership is a key word of your blog. But the leader seemed to be back there … well, leading the team. I’ve been a president of a smaller local group forseveral years and realized about two years in that the titles mean nothing and the areas we each have leadership based on our passion are everything. Your little shared posting group speaks loudly of how to work together. Makes me wonder if it matters to you that I don’t remember whose post caused me to sign up yet I commented on this one. What a team!

    • Thanks David for coming by. Many great teams don’t have an assigned leader. They work as equals, but each contributing something unique to the overall performance. They do have a mandate that may come from outside the group, But once their task has been clarified, they jump into it with ideas flowing from all members and no hierarchical rank. Thank you for your comments.

      • You make a very valid point, I think. In a real team, the leader is not key to the operations, he’s there to keep an eye on things, if he’s managing proceedings, this is not a team – it’s a managed group. I personally find, that the best teams are those that share 2 things: trust (in a way that lets them be vulnerable with each other) and creative conflict. In the 14 years of my work as people manager, these are my conclusions. I was just reading on this in a nice little post here: It’ll make a nice complimentary read to your article.
        Thanks for a good read!

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