Dr Amy Climer

Episode 33: The Difference Between Teams and Working Groups

The word team is often used a bit too casually to refer to any group of people working together. However, not all groups are teams. Knowing whether or not your group is a team or a working group can make a difference in how you work together. Both are valuable, but treating a working group like a team or visa versus can cause problems. Listen to this short episode to learn the difference and why it matters. 

What You’ll Learn

  • The definition of a team and working group and why you need to know the difference.

Resources Mentioned in the Episode

The Weekly Challenge

Assess the groups you are a part of, which are teams and which are working groups? Talk with the group and come to a consensus. Talk about why it matters. 


Feel like reading instead of listening? You can read it below. Enjoy!

Amy Climer: Welcome to Episode 33 of The Deliberate Creative Podcast. My name is Amy Climer. This podcast episode, we are going to talk about the definition of a team. That may seem kind of elementary, a bit silly, but this podcast is all about building innovation in teams, and I do not think I have ever actually defined what a team is. The reason I wanted to share it is because I had a huge aha! moment when I read the book The Wisdom of Teams by Katzenbach and Smith, and they define teams in there and it really helped me understand some confusion that I had experienced as a member of teams in the past.

Definition of a Team

So let me explain. Katzenbach and Smith give this definition of a team; that “a team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.” So there are three things that a team needs in order to actually be a team. There has to be a common purpose. There are performance goals; there are some goals that they are setting for themselves. And there is an approach and they are holding themselves mutually accountable.  

Now, I think this definition is actually somewhat aspirational, that high functioning teams would have all those three things. But perhaps not every team is there yet. But the aha! moment for me came when I was reading this and I read a different definition, the definition of a working group. Because I realized there are some teams that I have been on that actually were not teams but they were actually working groups.

Definition of a Working Group

So a working group is where members are coming together primarily to share information, to share best practices, or perspectives, and to make decisions to help each individual perform within his or her area of responsibility. So there is not necessarily a shared accountability, there is no common purpose, at least there is not like a small group common purpose. Ultimately at the end, each individual is making their own decisions about how they want to move forward and there is no collaboration, essentially.

So let me give you an example. I am a member of a mastermind group. If you are not familiar with mastermind groups, first of all, they are super awesome and I highly recommend creating one. This is a group that I created here in Madison where I live. We meet once a month, there are five of us who are members. All of the members are consultants and coaches. We all are self employed, we have our own our business. We meet once a month with the sole purpose to help each other succeed and to support each other and to be a sounding board. I think of it as the group where I can ask questions that I cannot ask anywhere else.

At the end of each meeting, we all go round and we share our goals for the next month. At some point, usually a few days before the following meeting, I will send an email out, “Oh hey, just a reminder this meeting is coming up. And by the way, here are the goals that we all committed to last month.” Then we start the next meeting and we share how are things going and have you met your goals for the previous month. But if someone did not meet their goals, that is okay. I mean, occasionally somebody might push them a little bit or provide some support or feedback, but it does not impact me if somebody else did not reach their goals because we are not all working towards the same thing. I mean, yeah, we are all working towards having a successful business and having a positive impact in the people that we serve, but ultimately my success is not directly impacting other people in the group, and vice versa.

I think of that mastermind group as a working group. We are there to support each other, but we do not fit the definition of a team. So a team again, there is a common purpose, performance goals and they hold themselves mutually accountable. What I found is that a lot of times organizations will create what they are calling a team, but it is actually a working group. It causes a lot of confusion because they are saying, “Oh, you all are a team and you need to act as a team,” but there is actually no common purpose that they need to be mutually accountable for, and they are really more of a working group.

So when I read these two definitions by Katzenbach and Smith, I realized that that had been a source of confusion with some teams that I had been a part of. I do not think of my mastermind group as a team because for all the reasons I already mentioned, but the groups that I am a part of where we are truly a team, it is about that collaboration. The success of our team is dependent on who we are, in part at least, are we meeting those three things; do we have a common purpose, performance goals, do we hold ourselves mutually accountable? And that other piece of are there complementary skills? So there are things that maybe I am not so good at, but somebody else in the team is, and vice versa, and we really compliment and support each other in that way. That is a really exciting place to be as a part of a team.

That is the definition of a team. I have found it is really helpful to just understand the difference between a team and a working group.

The Weekly Challenge [6:27]

Here is your challenge for the week. Think about the groups that you are a part of. Whether it is a group that you are working with on a regular basis, daily, or weekly, or is it a group that comes together monthly or quarterly. Think about all those groups that you are a part of, whether it is a committee, whether it is called a team or not, and try to assess if you are actually truly a team or if you are actually a working group. And bring this up with the group and have a conversation about it. That in itself can really be a valuable discussion. Have that conversation about, “Are we truly a team or are we a working group?” Often groups want to be a team, but they do not quite have those criteria in place yet, and when they know and understand those criteria, then they can start striving for them and that can really change the dynamics and change the success of the team. So there you have it. That is your weekly challenge, is talk to your team or group and figure out if you are a team or a working group.

This was just a short episode. I hope this is helpful. I hope you all have a wonderful week. I want to thank everybody for listening. I love it that you are listening out there. I can see the stats. I can see your downloads, so thanks for listening. If you have not yet, head on over to iTunes, write a review for the Deliberate Creative podcast, share an honest review. I love to get that feedback. If there are topics you want in a future episode, send me an email. You can go to climerconsulting.com and send me an email from the contact page. I will put a link in the shownotes to the book The Wisdom of Teams by Katzenbach and Smith. The shownotes can be found at climerconsulting.com/033 because this is Episode 33.

Have a wonderful week everyone. See you next time. Bye.   

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Rave Reviews

  • Amy Inspires Creativity Growth in Everyone
    January 5, 2022 by cjpowers7 from United States

    Amy Climer’s show helps all of us grow our creative muscles. She is authentic and cares about her listeners. Amy empowers us with tools that work in the office, training sessions, and our communities. The best part is her ability to make what feels out of reach, something that can be accomplished with simple steps forward.

  • A great way to get inspired!!
    March 8, 2021 by binglish from United States

    Love listening to Amy’s podcast! Her guests are awesome and conversations are full of inspiring information.

  • A must for people who want to think better
    May 26, 2019 by Dhensch from United States

    Amy Climer hit a home run with this podcast and continues to get hits with every episode. I was hooked with the first one and binge-listened to the four solo episodes about the Creative Problem Solving process. Her knowledge of the subject of creativity and innovation is incredibly deep. And, she makes it easy for others to learn and apply. I have listened to other "expert" podcasts and Amy's is different in that she holds nothing back. Episode after episode offer practical insights, tips and tools. She has a generosity of spirit that is contagious.

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