Groups and Teams in Organizations

What is a Group?

Group Definition: In the setting of an organization, a group is the collection of people who are located, grouped or gathered together, either by classification or in a more general sense.

The formation of groups within an organization can be intentional or incidental, often influenced by various factors such as departmental structure, job functions, or project needs.

Groups in an organization can be diverse in nature. They might be formed based on specific tasks, such as a project team, or could be more permanent, like a department or a division.

Alternatively, groups can also be informal, emerging from shared interests, cultural backgrounds, or common objectives among employees. The essence of a group lies in its collective identity – individuals coming together, sharing resources, information, and sometimes responsibilities, but not necessarily working towards a singular, unified goal.

Formal Definition of what is a group

In organizational and social psychology, Schein’s 1980 definition of a group provides a foundational understanding of how individuals form and function within groups.

According to this definition, a group is characterized by several key elements:

  1. Interaction Among Members: This is a fundamental aspect of a group. Interaction refers to any form of communication or social engagement between members, whether it’s through face-to-face meetings, digital communication, or collaborative tasks. These interactions are the building blocks of relationships within the group, facilitating the exchange of ideas, opinions, and experiences.
  2. Psychological Awareness: Members of a group are not just interacting; they are also psychologically aware of each other. This awareness implies that individuals recognize the presence, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of other group members. It involves understanding each other’s roles, expertise, and contributions to the group. This psychological awareness is crucial for the development of group dynamics, as it influences how members relate to one another and work together.
  3. Perception of Membership: An essential component of a group is the members’ perception of belonging to the group. This sense of belonging is tied to their identity and often influences their commitment and loyalty to the group. When individuals perceive themselves as part of a group, they are more likely to align their goals with that of the group, share the group’s values, and contribute to its objectives.
  4. Recognition as a Group by Members: Beyond individual perceptions, there is also a collective understanding among members that they are part of a unique entity. This collective recognition is what differentiates a mere collection of people from a group. It involves a shared understanding of the group’s purpose, norms, and values. Members often identify with the group, feeling a sense of pride and ownership in being part of it.

Schein’s definition underscores the importance of both the individual and collective aspects of group dynamics. It highlights how groups are not just formed by bringing people together but through the development of shared understandings, relationships, and identities among its members.

This perspective is crucial for understanding how groups function, make decisions, solve problems, and how they influence individual behavior and organizational outcomes.

What is a Team?

A team in an organization is defined to be more competitive than a group, with the intention of this grouping of people to be able to achieve a common goal, reach the same objectives.

Teams are explicitly created with the aim of being competitive and effective in achieving specific, shared objectives. The concept of a team implies a higher degree of collaboration and interdependence among its members compared to a group. Members of a team are selected based on their complementary skills and are expected to coordinate their efforts to accomplish the team’s collective goal.

Teams are often task-oriented, with a clear and shared understanding of their objectives. The success of a team is measured not just by the individual contributions of its members, but by their ability to work cohesively towards their common goal.

This involves effective communication, mutual support, and a shared sense of purpose. In many organizations, teams are the driving force behind key initiatives and projects, as their structured and goal-focused nature enables them to tackle complex and strategic tasks more efficiently than groups.

Formal Definition of what is a team

A team is a group of people, each of whom possesses particular expertise;

  • each of whom is responsible for making individual decisions;
  • who together hold a common purpose;
  • who meet together to communicate, collaborate and consolidate knowledge, from which plans are made, actions determined and future decisions influenced.

Brill (1976)

Let’s drill down…

Composition Based on Expertise:

Brill’s definition emphasizes that a team is composed of individuals each possessing unique expertise. This diversity in skills and knowledge is fundamental to a team’s effectiveness.

In a workplace setting, these varying areas of expertise can range from technical skills to strategic planning, each contributing a distinct value to the team.

Individual Responsibility in Decision-Making:

Despite being part of a collective, each team member is responsible for making individual decisions. These decisions are informed by their professional judgment and expertise.

This aspect of Brill’s definition highlights the balance between individual autonomy and collective responsibility, ensuring that diverse perspectives contribute to the team’s deliberations and actions.

Shared Common Purpose:

A unifying feature of a team, as noted by Brill, is a common purpose. This shared goal or mission aligns the team’s efforts and is the driving force behind their collaboration. It’s this collective aim that differentiates a team from a group of individuals working independently.

Regular Communication and Collaboration:

Communication and collaboration are the lifelines of a team. Regular meetings and interactions are not just for status updates, but are crucial for exchanging information, brainstorming ideas, and building strategies.

This ongoing collaboration fosters a deeper understanding among team members and helps in effectively addressing challenges and opportunities.

Consolidation of Knowledge:

Teams are effective when they can consolidate the diverse knowledge and insights of their members. This consolidation involves synthesizing different viewpoints and areas of expertise to develop comprehensive plans and solutions. It’s through this collective intelligence that teams are able to innovate and solve complex problems.

Planning and Action Orientation:

According to Brill, teams are not just about discussion and planning; they are also action-oriented. The plans made by a team lead to concrete actions, which are instrumental in achieving the team’s objectives. This focus on execution ensures that the team’s efforts translate into tangible outcomes.

Influence on Future Decisions:

The final aspect of Brill’s definition is the forward-looking nature of teams. The experiences, learnings, and outcomes of a team’s work not only impact current projects but also influence future decisions and strategies. This ongoing impact underscores the long-term value that teams bring to an organization.

What is the difference between groups and teams in the workplace?

Purpose and Objectives:

  • Groups: Typically, groups in a workplace are formed based on organizational structure or shared interests. Their objectives may be loosely defined, and they might not have a specific goal or project to work towards.
  • Teams: Teams are formed with a clear, specific purpose. They have defined goals and objectives, often working on specific projects or tasks. The success of a team is measured by its ability to achieve these set objectives.

Structure and Roles:

  • Groups: Groups may have a more informal structure without clearly defined roles for each member. The hierarchy within groups can be more fluid.
  • Teams: In contrast, teams usually have a well-defined structure with specific roles assigned to each member based on their skills and expertise. This structure is essential for coordinated efforts towards common goals.

Leadership and Decision-Making:

  • Groups: Leadership within a group can be more decentralized or may not be as pronounced. Decision-making can be more democratic or informal.
  • Teams: Teams often have a clear leader or a leadership structure. Decision-making is more focused and directed towards achieving team objectives. Leaders in teams play a crucial role in guiding the team and keeping members aligned with the team’s goals.

Collaboration and Interdependence:

    • Groups: While there is interaction within groups, members may work independently without a significant level of interdependence.
    • Teams: Teams are characterized by a high level of collaboration and interdependence. Team members rely on each other’s skills and contributions to achieve their common objectives.
  • Identity and Cohesion:
    • Groups: Group members might identify with the group, but the sense of identity is usually less pronounced compared to teams. Cohesion can vary.
    • Teams: There is a strong sense of identity and cohesion in teams. Members often feel a greater sense of belonging and commitment to the team and its goals.

Performance and Accountability:

  • Groups: Performance is often measured at the individual level, and accountability may be less defined.
  • Teams: Team performance is measured collectively. There is a shared accountability for outcomes, and each member is responsible for contributing to the team’s success.


  • Groups: Groups can be either temporary or permanent, with some existing as long as the organization itself.
  • Teams: Teams are often formed for a specific duration, usually for the tenure of a project or task, and may disband once the objective is achieved.

Groups and Teams In an Organisation

Image from Flickr by woodleywonderworks


What makes a team different from a regular group in the workplace?

Teams are distinct from regular groups because they consist of members with specific expertise, collaborate closely, and are driven by a shared goal. Their work involves collective decision-making and directly impacts future organizational strategies.

How important is individual expertise in a team?

Individual expertise is crucial in a team as it ensures a diverse range of skills and knowledge. Each member contributes their unique perspective, leading to more comprehensive and effective solutions.

Can team members make decisions independently?

Yes, team members are responsible for making individual decisions, but these decisions are informed by the team’s objectives and discussions. This autonomy ensures a variety of perspectives while maintaining alignment with the team’s goals.

What is the significance of a common purpose in a team?

A common purpose unifies the team’s efforts, providing direction and motivation. It’s essential for maintaining focus and cohesion among team members.

How often should a team meet to communicate and collaborate?

The frequency of meetings depends on the team’s objectives and the nature of their work. Regular communication is key for effective collaboration, but the schedule can be flexible to suit the team’s needs.

Why is the consolidation of knowledge important in a team setting?

Consolidating knowledge allows a team to leverage the collective expertise of its members, leading to more informed and innovative decision-making. It’s through this process that teams can address complex challenges effectively.

What role does planning play in a team?

Planning is crucial in a team as it guides their actions and ensures that efforts are aligned with the team’s objectives. It serves as a roadmap for achieving the desired outcomes.

Are teams in an organization action-oriented?

Yes, teams are not just focused on planning but also on taking actions that are aligned with their goals. This action orientation is essential for turning ideas and plans into tangible results.

How does a team’s work influence future decisions in an organization?

The outcomes and learnings from a team’s work provide valuable insights that can influence future strategies and decisions in the organization. Teams often set precedents for handling similar tasks or challenges in the future.

Is it necessary for all teams to have a designated leader?

While having a designated leader can be beneficial for guidance and coordination, it’s not always necessary. Some teams operate effectively with shared leadership or a more democratic approach to decision-making.

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