A team is a group of people … A group of people is NOT a team

In my work as a consultant I visit many companies. Sometimes for a day and sometimes for a longer period. What I see more than once is that organizations are still organized as departments. For example an application support department or an IT-Pro department. Surely this is not a problem. But what I do see as a problem is that the people in the department are merely “a group of people” where they could or actually should be a team.

The problem

Schermafbeelding 2015-04-09 om 11.33.35Organizations that I describe above are organized vertically, in silos. People with more or less the same skillset are put together in this department. Most of the time office space is allocated and the people sit together. If we take an IT-Pro department as an example we’ll see Network administrators, System Administrators, IT-Support guys, Application Support etc., sit together in a room. Sitting together, but still isolated. Sometimes the person is the only one who performs a specific task. Everybody is occupied with their own work. What I saw happening is that everybody is so occupied with their own work that optimization of work takes place on an individual level. For the person involved….great. For the “users” of this person…also great… For the organization…Not so great.

What we will see happening, is that knowledge is not shared. Person X knows about it, and no one else. Documentation is lacking because Person X knows about is. People do no feel responsible for fixing problems of someone else. If something is broken people start pointing fingers at that one guy. It is his problem. When Person X is sick, or leaves the company all his work freezes and problems will start to pile up. And the worst part is that Person X WILL leave the company. At a certain point in time he cannot expand his knowledge anymore. He does not have peers. He cannot brainstorm or learn, so he will try to find that somewhere else. As Daniel Pink describes in Drive (I saw the video 😉 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc) highly educated people are motivated by autonomy, mastery and purpose. In short, Getting better in what you do, decide when and how you do it and do it for a reason.

I think that you can do something about this to make this better.

A team

If we look at Scrum, the team is a very clear role. It is group of people that have multiple skills and share a same goal. The last bit is the most important if you ask me. They share a same goal. In scrum this is the sprint goal, or the vision of the product. They work together as a team to reach this goal. In order to do this they help each other, they talk to each other they work with each other and they play with each other. The group of people where we start with, transforms into a team. Not directly but over time it will. Bruce Tuckman describes this in his paper from 1965. (http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_86.htm). He talks about the path that a team follows to a high performance team. Forming, Storming Norming and Performing. I will not explain the complete model here, but the essence is about nurturing your team. Everybody must be part of the team and every team is different. You want people to connect with each other. Only then, when they know and trust each other, they can perform.

Simple tricks to try

So what if you want to transform a group of people into a team. Where to start? I have some simple pointers where you can start with.

Give them a shared vision or goal

A team needs a goal. Look at a football team or any other team you can imagine. They have a shared goal. So, if you have a department with all kinds of individuals , make something up that they share. “Less support calls this years”, “Happy users”, “Proof of Concept with new technology”. Try to search for something that everybody likes and make that your shared goal.

Share knowledge

Let the people on the department share their knowledge with each other. Not in a traditional way. With a “knowledge sharing session” where you listen to a boring presentation, but let them “work together”. Make pairs once a month and let people just do work.. Organize a handson workshop. Invest time so people can really share what they know

Sync Daily

Just like the daily scrum, do a daily sync Not a bi-weekly 2 hour meeting where everybody talks about that thing that nobody knows about. Make it a daily standup of max 15 minutes. Let everybody tell what problems they are going to solve today and what is blocking them or, as Cheryl Hammond describes in her blog , “What is the most valuable thing for me to do today?”. Let people be free to help each other out.

Make fun

Make fun with the team. Go out on regular bases. Have lunch together. Go to a conference. Try to make it more than work alone.

Do retrospectives

The one and only way to really get a team to knowo each other is to let them talk to each other. A retrospective is a great way to di this. There are plenty of websites that have great games (I describe some here in my blog post

I really like Job or Joy  as it provides great insight in to people their lives. Or Mirror, Mirror that focuses on people their good and improvement points (https://roadtoalm.com/2014/12/25/mirror-mirror-on-the-wall-a-personal-retrospective-exercise/)


Sometimes you do not have the luxury to create a team around a specific goal and you have to deal with a department of individuals. However, by treating them as a team, giving them purpose and nurture them you can create a team, leading to better results and higher motivation

Thanks for reading!

2 Responses to “A team is a group of people … A group of people is NOT a team”

  1. Hey Renevo,

    Need your advice. I am part of the devops team but am the go to guy for TFS. I share most of what I do with the team. However there are 2 people on the team that do system engineer work. The whole team is supposed to be system engineers but the club the 2 guys belong to won’t give us access or share their knowledge of VMWare (for example). The club they belong to is with the rest of IT. Any suggestions on breaking down that silo?

    • Hi Mark, what you describe is painfully enough very common. I would start with trying to know the “why”. Why do they act like this. Afraid to lose their job, inability to share, secretly not good at their work, impatient to others ? Try to find out. Use a retro for that.

      Give the good example yourself. Share everything. Write wiki’s. Overload them with info.

      If nothing helps… Go to your manager and suggest they should change something.

      Hope this helps !

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