How does a group become a team

The confusion between the terms “team” and “group” is a common phenomenon. A few people get chosen, told that they are a team, maybe even are put in the same office, and then are expected to perform a miracle. The miracle doesn’t come. Because there are conditions for a group to become a team and function as a team:

A common goal. A baker, a painter and an industrial alpinist will never be a team. They all do important, valuable work, but they cannot support each other in their tasks and they have no common goal. They can be buddies, but never a team. Some call it a common purpose, others call it a common mission.

• Clear boundaries, limits. Self-organisation is a catchy term in agility, but it is dangerous. Self-organisation without clear boundaries becomes chaos. The team needs to know what it can and cannot decide, and what processes it can use to work with the rest of the organisation. The simplest example is the concept of ‘core time’, familiar to many companies: what is the time slot when you should be at work?

• Authority. The team should have the right to make decisions within the limits of the aforementioned authority. An obvious Scrum example is the assignment of tasks: the team agrees at the daily standup meeting which team member will do which task. No one outside the team has a say in this.

•Stability. A group with a frequently changing composition never becomes a team. It takes time for people to get to know each other personally and professionally, to learn to work together, to develop their own working methods, language, etc. Every time someone joins or leaves the team, the process starts again.

Beyond creating these conditions, there are a few tricks that can help speed up the process of becoming a team:

• Identity. It is no coincidence that many teams choose a name, as it reinforces a sense of belonging and helps to distinguish between “us” and “them”.

• Physical environment. The many low-tech visualisation tools typical of agile teams (information radiators, story maps, printed charts, etc.) have the added benefit of making the team’s space unique and cosy, in addition to displaying information.

• Shared resources. Resources that are shared but allocated to the team, and which the team is responsible for distributing. Like the physical environment, it enhances the “our” experience.

• Values. Shared values, not just slogans or marketing catchphrases, but also a common understanding of them can help bring team members together.