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Home » Teams

A Group is not a Team

Submitted by on Thursday, 28 February 2013One Comment

A Group is not a Team.

Here’s a mantra we find ourselves repeating a lot in Asian workplaces – a Group is not a Team.

Of all the areas in management we find there is most confusion, the ‘Team’ must count high up there in the top 10. ‘The teamwork in my department is very good’, one expatriate manager told us recently. Yet when we dug just a little beneath the surface, we found that in spite of this ‘good teamwork’, there were serious performance issues – like missed deadlines, silos, and poor self-motivation. So what’s going on?

A Group is not a Team – understand this…

a group is not a teamIn the West, we’re used to a ‘team’ being defined as a number of individuals who work together to achieve a common goal. Most of us are familiar with Tuckman’s ‘Forming – Storming – Norming – Performing’ model, and so, when we see a group of people seemingly working together in Asia, we’re tempted to assume that this is an example of great teamwork.

Often, nothing can be further from the truth. Here’s why…

The blur of Culture

The problem with Tuckman’s model, is that in the West, culturally we are more individualistic. So the starting point for a ‘Team’ is one of individuals, coming together as a Team.

But in Asia, this isn’t the case. That’s because culturally most societies in Asia are more group-oriented. Their starting point is as a Group, and it’s easy to be blurred by Culture and confuse Group behaviour with Team behaviour.

Teambuilding Thailand

So what the expatriate manager in fact witnessed in the example above, was Group behaviour. She was blurred by culture. So let us repeat the mantra again: A Group is not a Team!

So What is a Team, exactly?

Based on his groundbreaking research into effective teams, Patrick Lencioni has identified that high-performing teams routinely do these five things (as we summarised in a previous post here):

1. They build trust

2. They embrace conflict

3. They achieve commitment

4. They embrace accountability, and

5. They pay attention to results.

When we dug beneath the surface in the workgroup mentioned earlier, we discovered that while there was some trust, there was a huge amount of conflict avoidance, very little commitment to the company goals, zero accountability and… are we surprised? … poor results. This wasn’t a Team, it was a Group.

A Group is not a Team – how to

Starting with the fundamental error of the cult of the individual, Western companies compound it by basing all their human resource efforts on going from individual to a team.

We have news for you:

This doesn’t work in Asia!

We see it again and again – companies banging their heads against a wall as they try to swim against the tide. Frustration and Wheel spinning. Vague imprecations about the woes of culture.

Thankfully, there is a the solution. And it’s simple.

It’s easier to go from Group to Team than from Group to Individual to Team.


The starting point is here. Try it today!

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