By Constance B. Wolf

We work with a variety of structures – some formal, some not; some long-term, others of short duration. But, as a manager, the question often arises: How should I manage each of these structures? One way to differentiate them is to consider "Am I working with a team or a group?".

There are some differences to be considered if you wish to develop a high performing team versus a more informal group of individuals gathered together by reasons of structure or short term purpose.

Team Requirements

A team exists when all of the following conditions are present to one degree or another:

* members have common mission and goals

* members are inter-dependent

* there is a free flow of information

* all are accountable for the outcome

* joint decision-making occurs


A Group is not a Team

A group often looks like a team but lacks the reliance on each other in performing their work and in being held accountable for results. A group may all report to one manager; yet, be responsible for very different and autonomous aspects of the organization. Examples may be people who report to the same person but do not interact much with the others who report to that manager. Just because they report to the same person or come to periodic staff meetings does not make them part of a working team. Unless, they meet the Team Requirements, they are a group.

Differences in Managing

Groups require many of the same managerial skills that a team requires such as an agenda for meetings, clear task assignments, project management, open communications and monitoring systems. The difference in dealing with a high performing team lies in assuring that systems support the inter-dependent nature of the team’s work including:

* team mission and goal setting

* clear roles and responsibilities

* integrated reward and recognition systems

* smooth flowing of information and communications across department lines

* clear workflow processes

* joint decision –making

* open conflict resolution


According to the Tuckman Model, effective teams evolve through a series of stages that can be identified. Team leaders and members who are made aware of these various stages of development, will be better equipped to understand how and why they are behaving in certain ways and how they might change their behavior to better attain their goals.

Stage 1. FORMING : the orientation stage

Members come together as individuals trying to understand the nature of the task they are to perform. Members…look for emerging leaders; are optimistic; seek what is expected of them and test various behaviors on the team.

Stage 2. STORMING: the formation stage

Members begin to understand the nature of the task and may question why they are there. They need to face internal conflicts openly and honestly. Members…decide if they like the task; decide on their commitment to the task and team; challenge the leadership; challenge the purpose, goals and team norms.

Stage 3. NORMING : the sharing and coordination stage.

The team has faced its conflicts and established a consensus about interpersonal behavior norms. Members …enjoy open data flow; practice open communications; settle into tasks; may fear "rocking the boat" and enjoy harmony.

Stage 4. PERFORMING : the formalization stage.

The team accepts the challenge of the team purpose and are eager to be part of a winning effort. Members… focus on achieving goals; work inter-dependently to solve problems; take pride in the team and its functioning; use effective decision-making process and self-correct as new needs arise.

Team leadership

The team manager/leader supports the team as it goes through this team development process by using various interventions at each stage. Early on, more direction and structure is needed. In the middle stages, a supportive and coaching orientation is needed. At the last stage, often a shared leadership approach is best with the leaders emerging based on the distinct needs of the team and its tasks.

As with any team or group effort, participation and involvement enhance commitment. By gauging a team’s evolution, the manager will be able to help in the ultimate fulfillment of team goals and the satisfaction of the people involved.

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Connie Wolf is president of Sounding Board®, a service of CBW, Inc. She holds a master's degree in Organization Development and is a graduate of Coach University and the Gestalt Therapist Training Program. She is the creator of the Sounding Board® approach to professional coaching and consulting and can be reached at  or 480-607-1960.