Thursday, April 12, 2012

Team vs Group: implications for leaders

Team vs Group? This article highlights differences between team leader and group leader roles. We include a study of leadership issues in transition from group to team.

When setting up either, it is worth considering the role the individuals are to play. Ask yourself whether organizational goals will be best achieved by a team or a group.

Where does responsibility lie?

The first team vs group issue to consider is where the focus of overall responsibility for performance si located.

One of the key differences between the team leadership and group leadership is: "Who is responsible for delivering the total outcome of the individuals' efforts?

Individual responsibilities

In a group each member is responsible for only their own individual contributions. He or she achieves outcomes or makes their contribution to the organization in (relative) isolation.

Individuals need not have any concern about what other members of the group achieve.
Group members are likely to develop an individual relationship with the group leader. Relationships between group leader and different individuals may vary considerably in their tone and quality.

One individual may need to be managed much more forcefully than another, for example. Other group members may not be aware of this ... and if they were, it is likely to be of little consequence to them.

Within a group there is not the interconnectedness and shared responsibility you see between team members. Each member of a group can say ‘I did my best, it is not my fault that others did not pull their weight.'

Collective responsibility

In a team, such as a sports team, all the players know they are interconnected. They understand that it is the quality of their collective performance that determines the final result: success or failure.

In an effective team, each member knows that they are dependent on the other members for achieving the final result. Which means team members have an interest in helping each other where they can.

In software design projects - for example - this seems to lead to more pro-active fault-finding. That is, team members recognize their collective responsibility for the outcomes they achieve.

As a direct consequence of this the team leader will tend to relate to the team as a whole. The team leader role may become more nominal as the team gels and sets its own challenges.

In some instances, this may be too challenging for some managers or team leaders. In a positive situation, the leadership role and decision-making will adapt and accommodate. Decisions will be made differently. They will be based on their impact on the dynamics of the web of relationships between group members.

If forceful treatment is meted out to one member of a team, it is likely to have consequences for the team as a whole. This is especially the case if such treatment is perceived as unwarranted or unfair.

Positive or negative, the consequences of team leadership decisions may be magnified by the relationships between team members

Team vs Group: Who owns the results?

Another way of making the distinction between team leadership and group leadership is by considering who owns or is responsible for the results.

In a team it is the team leader and the team members who have a shared responsibility for the outcomes meeting target. So in a sports team, all the players and the coach share the responsibility for what happens on the pitch.

In a group - for example a group of sales people - it is usual that each member is only responsible for her own performance. The leader takes overall responsibility for the aggregated results of each individual meeting the overall sales department target.

Team vs Group: How the behaviour of members differs

Members of a team appreciate that their own (individual) success is determined by the collective performance of everyone. They have a much greater motivation to help and support those team members whose performance may fall behind ... for whatever reason.

Perhaps an under-achiever is new and needs a buddy or a mentor to help them get established. Maybe there are environmental reasons for poor results. Other members are likely to find ways to help them raise their game.

For a group member however, his status and reward depend only upon his individual performance. Generally speaking, if he gives time or resources to another group member there is no benefit in it for him.

If this effort takes his attention away from his own performance he might even suffer as a result.

Team vs Group: How the behaviour of leaders differs

How can a group leader create team results?

Experience demonstrates that teams are usually more effective than groups. If the leader of a group want to improve performance overall, he needs to find a way of the group taking shared ownership for the results.

It is likely that a shift from individual responsibility to shared responsibility
can only be achieved if the pay and reward system has a significant element that is dependent on the overall outcome.

The knowledge, skills and attitudes of the leader may also need to shift significantly to be effective in this new environment.

For example, the leader may need to share all of the individuals' results with the group. The group  has a right to know how others are performing if their pay depends upon it.

This may be a challenging experience for a leader who has avoided the potential emotional stress that can be caused by this level of openness. They may have found it a lot safer to keep the individual results to themselves in the past.

Team vs Group: the emergence of self-managing teams

As groups begin to share responsibility for the overall performance, then the whole subject of self managing teams becomes a topic for exploration.

In our experience with a high performance work system in a manufacturing setting, it became clear that individuals were demanding a stronger voice: a group moved into a more democratic phase ... and began to behave much more like a team.

Individuals' rewards depended on the the performance of the group as a whole. Team members started to demand a much bigger say in those areas that have been traditionally the responsibility of the leader.

For example:
  • Recruitment – team members wanted a say in who was allowed to join the team
  • Discipline and Firing – team members were much less tolerant of members who broke the rules or where not up to the job
  • Training and Development – as new skills were added to the team capability, members were keen to choose who should get them
  • Promotion – equally team members wanted their input into who would be promoted 


Team vs Group: leadership roles emerge from the specific circumstances

Team leaders need to show their mettle at this time! Potential gains are great, but insecure managers may squander opportunities:
  • appropriate monitoring and checks and balances - yes!
  • micro-management and (dare we say it?) control-freakery - no!

Such changes may lead to qualitative shifts in performance and achievement, but can seem unpredictable and maverick in their very nature.

This kind of transition along the team vs group continuum can create a situation in which team leadership / group leadership decisions become difficult.

A management response may be to parachute in a respected technician to manage the group. The idea is that technical expertise brings respect and therefore confers the right to manage - not necessarily.

This team knows it's starting to fly ... and that feels good!

Technical leadership and other aspects may be split between two people. This can begin to multiply communication and co-ordination difficulties

Situations like this are made for leadership development coaching. As coaches, this looks to us like nothing is wrong, everything is right ... or at least has great potential.

How does coaching support managers or leaders who may be confronting a situation they've never seen before? And who may be feeling disempowered and vulnerable because of this kind of role-reversal?

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