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Teams or Groups: What Do You Have in Your Organization?

Published December 21, 2009 3:34 PM by Brian Garavaglia

Organizations have undertaken considerable effort to institute teams within the workplace. Since teams can bring a level of productivity that often fails to exist on the individual level, many managerial consultants have emphasized the implementation of teams to problem solve and enhance organizational productivity. However, many consultants and upper level management, who have advocated the use of teams, have also failed to differentiate a team from a group. This becomes a problem since many organizations have very few true teams and instead have groups that fail to have the extra features that truly transcend these collective entities into a team.  The team approach is not anything new to health care institutions as well, however unfortunately, very few of the so-called teams within healthcare are true teams.  Therefore, before attempting to institute a team approach within the healthcare setting, one must come to understand what a team is, and what differentiates it from a group.             

What is a team and a group? 

At a minimum, a group is composed of two or more people that interact and do so in an interdependent manner.  Each person has an influence on the other person or persons in the group.  Groups may share and embrace a common goal, a common vision, a common way of thinking, and hold a common purpose.  However, groups do not necessarily have to hold all of these features.  In fact, as was mentioned, all groups have to have is a minimum of two people that interact in an interdependent manner.

Teams though have to extend beyond the minimal parameters of the group.  Although all teams are groups, not all groups are teams.  Moving beyond the minimum number of people and individuals interacting in an interdependent manner, team members have to share a commonality of thought, embrace a sense of common purpose, as well as feel a sense of accountability toward each other and the larger purpose of the team.  One of the reasons that many goals are not achieved and many so-called teams, such as quality assurance teams and teams related to enhancing a facility's census fail is that they are not really teams, but groups that feel no urgency, no commonality, no unified sense of purpose, or embrace an accountability for helping to achieve the larger goal of the team.

The Devolution and Evolution of  Organizational Team Structure           

I have noticed this personally within organizations.  Many individuals feel that bringing together a collection of individuals to obtain some goal will automatically bring the results that they seek to achieve.  However, many of these aggregations are often not teams, but many of them are not even groups.  Many individuals sit and feel that they are being coerced to participate in something that they do not want to be part of, and often do not even want to contribute because they feel their time is being wasted.  They sit and look out blankly or in a disgusted fashion, feeling that their time is being wasted on a useless and silly activity that will not further the productivity of the organization.  Therefore, not only does this collection of individuals fail to have the necessary requirements of a team, but fail to be interacting in an interdependent manner that allows them to even be a group.              

Not only do they share any common sense of purpose or clear understanding of what needs to be achieved, but also many will use the time spent in this "supposed team" as a social gathering.  Sense the interactive dynamics are not imbued with a common sense of purpose, nor do the individuals have a vested interested or feel a sense of accountability toward achieving the larger purpose, all that exists is a fragmented collection of individuals, a social aggregate, where you have a collection of individuals occupying the same place at the same time, similar to those waiting for a bus at a bus stop.  However, in this case this collection of known workers now digresses even further into a social gathering in which movies, daily events, or whatever comes to mind is discussed.  This becomes the "coffee club effect" of many teams.  Frequently, more time is spent on the social gathering aspect than any investiture of time toward addressing the goal for which the team was originally conceived.  What transpires is facility management stating that they have a number of teams in place to address the concerns within their health care organization.  However, the word team here is being used in an "honorary" manner, failing to hold any substantive value.  In reality, most teams are there in name only and the productivity of the team often fails to exist.   

As mentioned, teams have to not only share the aspects of the group, but also move beyond these characteristics and take on a sense of common purpose, feeling a sense of collective organization toward achieving the goal, feel a sense of collective efficacy toward achieving the goal, and hold a sense of accountability for achieving the purpose for which the team has been established.  The evolution of the team needs to be incumbent on strong, well-focused leadership.  Especially in the early stages of the team, leadership is critical for establishing the purpose of the team, why the team is needed, and to formulate the rules and organizational structure that will assist team members in staying focused, understanding the mission of the team, and establishing a collective efficacy that will instill in the team members a sense of accountability and urgency.

Summarizing the Team Effort   

In this brief article it should become clear that much of what is often referred to as teams, especially in long-term care and other health care organizations are far from being teams.  In fact, as was mentioned, many do not even qualify as being groups. Because of this what is often found is a collection of individuals that have often been mandated by top executives in the company or regulatory requirements to come together and achieve a number of different teams for specific purposes. 

However, once individuals are brought together often nothing close to the true concept of a team is ever established.  It should be no surprise that many individuals feel their participation in these so-called teams as a waste of time. Given that most are loosely structured social gatherings that end up failing to have any type of formal structure, feeling of purpose, and sense of commonality, most of these collections do end up being a waste of time. For teams to succeed, individuals have to buy into the collective efficacy of the team approach and feel a vested interest and accountability toward achieving the larger goal the team was established for as part of the organizational environment.         

Team development is work. However, many people feel that putting individuals together will somehow lead to a magical process of agglutination, bringing individuals together in a team through some mystical, hands off process. This is often due to most individuals having very little training and understanding of group and team dynamics and how to develop these processes. Therefore, for those that attempt to build a team through a laissez-faire approach, good luck. However, for those that want to have successful teams that are productive, learn about group-team dynamics and practice these dynamics daily.    





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About this Blog

    Brian Garavaglia, PhD
    Occupation: Long-term care administrator
    Setting: Sterling Heights, Mich.
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