Have You Mixed Up ‘Group’ vs. ‘Team’? Here’s Why It Matters

Man making a good presentation to a group

Is there a difference between a group vs. team? According to Justin Irving, the answer is yes—and it’s important for churches to know. 

In the following excerpt adapted from Leading Teams and Groups in Ministry, an 11-hour course from Logos Mobile Education, Justin Irving clearly explains the difference between groups and teams—and why it matters to those who serve in your church. (Teaser: “Groups help us to go fast; teams help us to go far.”)

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In everyday conversation, I think we often use the language of “groups” and “teams” rather interchangeably, and that’s not a negative thing, but . . . a team that is functioning in a cohesive manner is different than just a collection of people coming together. 

How do work groups and teams differ within organizations? How do we understand the difference between groups and teams? It’s really what I’d like us to spend a bit of time focusing on in this particular segment.

What’s the distinction between a group vs. team?

Author Macchia provides this nuanced connection—the distinctions—between the two.

Leadership

For work groups, the first element that’s highlighted is there’s a focus on a singular leader. In teams, while there may be a person who is a singular leader starting things off, it moves toward a pattern of shared leadership within a team context. So, there’s a contrast between singular leadership on to shared leadership.

Accountability

Next, work groups are characterized often by individual accountability. Within the team context, there is a place for both individual and mutual accountability. 

This is a key difference here. 

How is the team structured in a way where the outcome and accountability is not just about what each individual person did and being held accountable for that individual work? A team really is focused on: What are we doing collectively together, and are we being held accountable at that collective level? This is a key difference.

Purpose

Work groups also tend to have a purpose that is the same as the organization. Teams may have a common focus, a common purpose, with the organization, but usually a team also has some uniquenesses that differ from the organization. They are serving within the bounds of the organizational umbrella, but there is a team focus and a team purpose that is nuanced. It is an addition and is complementary to the broader organizational purpose.

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Products

Next, work groups tend to have individual work products. This connects somewhat to the comments around individual accountability. A key question here is: Is it about individuals doing separate work individually, or is it a team context within which there is a collective work product?

Meetings

Finally, work groups are characterized by efficient meetings (they tend to be); teams tend to encourage open-ended discussion and activity. Because it’s not simply about going fast and having efficient outcomes, it is about encouraging the process of hearing multiple voices, and hopefully the sum total of what this team accomplishes is greater than just what each individual part can contribute to the process. This is an initial look at the difference between teams and work groups, comparing the differences in terms of what Macchia has to share.

Participating in teams and groups

When I consider teams and groups, I note that most people participate in some form of a team or group on a regular basis. Certainly this happens through recreation in the realm of sports and clubs. This happens on the job as well, as people come together to get things done within organizations. This also happens on a regular basis within the context of churches and ministries. 

Although you have likely been a part of both groups and teams in the past, there is a question that needs to be asked, and that is: What is the difference? What are the key distinctions between a group and a team?

Characteristics of teams

Larson and LaFasto describe three basic characteristics of teams. 

  • They note that these characteristics include two or more people (kind of a basic start but an important one)
  • Second, specific performance objective or recognizable goal to be obtained.
  • And finally—this is the most important—it involves the coordination of activity among the members of the team, which is required for the attainment of the team goal or objective

While the first two characteristics can be characteristics of groups or teams, it is this third point of coordinated activity that really distinguishes what a team is all about.

Individual versus coordinated effort

Groups: Individual

To reinforce this, [Carl E.] Larson and [Frank M. J.] LaFasto’s third point is the key to answering our question of how groups and teams differ. 

Groups organize around individuals, bringing together independent work in light of individual goals. Notice the key language of “individuals,” “independent,” and “individual goals.”

Teams: Coordinated

In contrast to this, teams organize around individuals bringing together coordinated work in light of collective goals. 

In contrast to the language of “independent” and “individual goals,” teams focus on coordinated work in light of collective goals. We can contrast these with these key language terms.

  • Groups are focused on independent work while teams focus on coordinated work.
  • Groups focus on individual goals while teams focus on collective goals.
  • Groups focus on individual accountability while teams focus on mutual accountability.
  • Groups focus on individual evaluation while teams focus on collective evaluation.

Church Ops without the Oops. Faithlife EquipValuing both groups and teams

I highly value teaming done well. However, it’s important to note that there is a time and place for both groups and teams. We want to understand the differences.

Value of groups

Groups are generally more helpful for quickly and efficiently getting things done in the context of a temporary working relationship. 

When individual and independent work can be brought together to advance the individual goals of multiple parties, then a group is an efficient way of working together. Many of the group projects and assignments I have completed over the years of my schooling fit into this group model. It is a process whereby individuals, bringing their individual work together to accomplish individual goals, meet the needs of the community. Groups are helpful in that process.

Value of teams

However, there are times and places where teams are a better answer. Teams are generally more helpful for taking on bigger projects over a longer period of time. 

When the outcome requires coordinated work being brought together to advance collective goals that will be collectively evaluated, then a team is the most effective way to work together. Although teaming done well tends to take more time than working as a group, this extra time investment pays off beautifully in the quality of the team’s performance.

Summary

Here are some summary points:

  • Groups are best when the stakes are low and speed is the key.
  • Teams are best when the stakes are high and quality is more important than just the speed at which the goals are accomplished.

Earlier in this course, I highlighted the following African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” This sums up the group/team difference as well. Though most of us want to go fast and far, usually we have to prioritize one over the other. Groups help us to go fast; teams help us to go far.

As you think about the importance of teams and groups, it’s important to think about the distinctions between these two and how they will meet the needs of your community. 

There are likely ad hoc meetings that will need to take place. These are short-term assignments, and groups likely will be the best form which you can use in that context. However, when there are long-term gatherings of groups who are working on collective outcomes through coordinated effort, then it’s time to use teams, remembering that if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together in the team process.

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Learn more from Justin Irving by picking up LD201 Leading Teams and Groups in Ministry now.

And when you’re ready to start organizing your church’s groups and teams, you can find all the help you need on faithlife.com. It’s preset with both groups and teams to help you cast vision, share responsibility, and keep everyone on the same page. 

Even better, you can create your own groups and teams for free. Start by creating your church’s group, then set up subgroups and teams and invite the right people to join. They can access the group through the free Faithlife app or a web browser. Try it out now!

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Faithlife (makers of Logos Bible Software) is the largest developer of Bible study software and a worldwide leader in multilingual electronic publishing. Faithlife partners with more than 500 publishers to make more than 120,000 Bible study resources available to customers around the world. More recently, Faithlife has launched the world's first integrated ministry platform, a full suite of ministry, communication, and management tools for churches.

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Written by Faithlife Staff