An Introduction to Teams and Groups

See also: How to Conduct a Meeting

Being in groups is part of everyday life and many of us will belong to a wide range of groups, for example: family groups, social groups, sports groups, committees, etc.

This page concentrates on groups that have been specially formed to fulfil some purpose, or groups that are a drawing together of people with shared experience.  This type of group is often also referred to as a team.

What are Groups and Teams?

There is some confusion about the difference between a group and a team; traditionally academics, communication and management theorists use the terms: group, group-working, group-interaction, group-structure etc. to refer to the dynamics of people working together towards a common cause. 

The word group however has a broader meaning – a group of passengers on a flight have a common characteristic – to travel, but they are not necessarily working towards a common cause.  Groups do not even need to refer to people, for example, a group of products in a supermarket, in this case the group is arbitrary and could be defined by any number of variables.

A team is generally more specific.  We would not refer to our airline passengers as a team, unless they crashed on a desert island and needed to work together to survive.  The distinction is that a team is working together for a common cause.  A group of schoolchildren may be in the same class, whereas a team of schoolchildren may be working together on a specific project within the class.

When we talk about groups and teams we use the terms interchangeably – it is possible to have a group without a team but not a team without a group.  Although we use the word team throughout our pages we use the following definition of group:

A group is a collection of people with some common characteristics or purpose. 

  • A group can consist of any number of people. 
  • People in groups interact, engage and identify with each other, often at regular or pre-determined times and places.
  • The group members share beliefs, principles, and standards about areas of common interest and they come together to work on common tasks for agreed purposes and outcomes. 
  • People in groups are defined by themselves and by others as group members, in other words individuals are aware that they are part of a group.

Important Defining Features of Groups:

  • People who can identify with each other.  Sharing ideas, beliefs and/or experience of common areas.
  • People who frequently and regularly engage with each other, agreeing on a purpose and working together on shared tasks.
  • People who recognise themselves and are recognised by others as part of a group.

Types of Groups

Groups may be formal, brought together for a particular purpose, or they may be informal such as family groups, groups of friends or colleagues.  You may come into contact or work with a range of different groups.

These types of group may include:

  • Work Groups: Either formal, such as teams, committees or training groups, or informal maybe setup to tackle an ad-hoc problem.

  • Neighbourhood Groups:  An example of a neighbourhood group would be one established to develop local amenities.

  • Social Groups | Special Interest groups: These are groups established to meet the needs of a particular sector (e.g. age group, gender) or interests (e.g. music or sports). Examples include Women’s Institute and Scouts.

  • Self-Help Groups:  Such groups are often established to work through particular emotions or to provide support for people with a certain illness, e.g. helping to overcome an addiction such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

  • Inter-Agency Groups:  These are developed between agencies/organisations that work in related fields to improve product and/or client services. In addition, they aid communication and establish joint ventures to prevent duplication and confusion.

  • Pressure Groups: The function of pressure groups is to challenge the status quo, often by using high profile tactics to gain media attention to achieve their aims.

Task-Based and Experience-Based Groups

Groups can also be sub-divided in two ways:

  • Groups established to carry out specific tasks are known as task-based groups, such as a pressure groups.

  • Groups which are based on the experiences of their members are known as experience-based groups, such as a self-help group.

The distinction between task-based groups and experience-based groups is important because it affects how the group is formed, organised, led and what roles the individual group members play.

Task-Based or Content Groups

These types of group focus on the achievement of specific goals and the individual members of the group work towards completing these goals.  These types of group are common in organisations and include groups set up to work on specific projects – perhaps the design of a new product.

Experience-Based or Process Groups

These types of group focus on the individual group members and how they interact, support and grow together, an example would be a group established to support people suffering from stress.

Group Communication

When people are part of a group they interact and communicate in different ways to how they would on a one-to-one basis.

These differences include:

The Individual Member within a Group

Through networking within a group people come to a greater understanding about other group members and the wider environment – seeing things from other people’s point of view.  Also, within a group situation, people often learn about who they are and their strengths and weaknesses through comparison with other group members.

Groups are important to personal development as they can provide support and encouragement to help individuals to make changes in behaviour and attitude.  Some groups also provide a setting to explore and discuss personal issues.  A group setting can allow people to become more confident and learn new interpersonal, social and practical skills through observation as well as practice. These skills can be developed within a group setting and then effectively used in individual situations.  As group membership can improve self-esteem and confidence so it can also improve self-motivation and the desire to learn and develop.

See our pages: Group Roles and Improving Self-Esteem, for more information.

The Group as a Whole

From the experience of belonging to different groups, it quickly becomes obvious that groups are often made up of individuals with very different personalities, attitudes and ideas.  For a group to function well a bond needs to be developed so that individual differences can be used for the wider interests of the group.  ‘Cohesiveness’ is the term used to describe this mutual bonding between members, with each having a strong sense of belonging to the group.

Cohesiveness is, in part, the measure of the success of the group. A group with more cohesiveness is more likely to keep its members than that of a group with little cohesiveness. Members of a high-cohesive group are likely to talk in group terms, using 'we' instead of 'I' when talking about group activities. The more cohesive a group the greater the sense of team spirit and the more individual members will cooperate with each other. A low-cohesive group may find that members frequently miss meetings; sub-groups or cliques may form within the original group and there is likely to be an underlying sense of frustration as the goals of the group are less likely to be attained.

See our page: Building Cohesiveness for more information.