For other uses, see Team (disambiguation).
A team at work

A team is a group of people or other animals linked in a common purpose. Human teams are especially appropriate for conducting tasks that are high in complexity and have many interdependent subtasks.

A group does not necessarily constitute a team. Teams normally have members with complementary skills and generate synergy through a coordinated effort which allows each member to maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. Naresh Jain (2009) claims:

Team members need to learn how to help one another, help other team members realize their true potential, and create an environment that allows everyone to go beyond his or her limitations. Teams can be broken down into from a huge team or one big group of people, even if these smaller secondary teams are temporary.[1]

A team becomes more than just a collection of people when a strong sense of mutual commitment creates synergy, thus generating performance greater than the sum of the performance of its individual members.

Thus teams of game players can form (and re-form) to practise their craft/sport. Transport logistics executives can select teams of horses, dogs, or oxen for the purpose of conveying passengers or goods.

While academic research on teams and teamwork has grown constantly and has shown a sharp increase over the past 40 years, the societal diffusion of teams and teamwork actually followed a volatile trend in the past century.[2] The concept was introduced into business in the late 20th century, which was followed by a popularization of the concept of constructing teams. Differing opinions exist on the efficacy of this new management fad.[3] Some see "team" as a four-letter word: overused and under-useful.[4] Others see it as a panacea that realizes the human-relations movement's desire to integrate what that movement perceives as best for workers and as best for managers. Still others believe in the effectiveness of teams, but also see them as dangerous because of the potential for exploiting workers in that team effectiveness can rely on peer pressure and peer surveillance. However, Hackman argued that team effectiveness should not be viewed only in terms of performance. While performance is an important outcome, a truly effective team will contribute to the personal well-being and adaptive growth of its members.[5]

Compare the more structured/skilled concept of a crew, the advantages of formal and informal partnerships, or the well-defined - but time-limited - existence of task forces.

Team size, composition, and formation

Team size and team composition affect team processes and team outcomes. The optimal size (and composition) of teams is debated[6] and will vary depending on the task at hand. At least one study of problem-solving in groups showed an optimal size of groups at four members. Other works estimate the optimal size between 5-12 members or a number of members that can consume two pizzas.[6][7] The following extract is taken from Chong (2007):[8]

The interest in teams gained momentum in the 1980s with the publication of Belbin’s (1981)[9] work on successful teams. The research into teams and teamwork followed two lines of inquiry. Writers such as Belbin (1981, 1993),[9][10] Woodcock (1989),[11] Margerison and McCann (1990),[12] Davis et al. (1992),[13] Parker (1990),[14] and Spencer and Pruss (1992)[15] focused on team roles and how these affected team performance. These studies suggested that team performance was a function of the number and type of roles team members played. The number of roles for optimal performance varied from 15 (Davis et al., 1992)[13] to four (Parker, 1990).[14] This variation has been attributed to how roles were defined. Lindgren (1997)[16] believed that, in a social psychological sense, ‘roles’ were behaviours one exhibited within the constraints assigned by the outside world to one’s occupational position e.g. leader, manager, supervisor, worker etc. Personality traits, on the other hand, were internally driven and relatively stable over time and across situations. These traits affected behavioural patterns in predictable ways (Pervin, 1989)[17] and, in varying degrees, become part of the ‘role’ definition as well.
The other line of inquiry focused on measuring the ‘effectiveness’ of teams. Writers such as Deihl and Stroebe (1987),[18] Gersik (1988),[19] Evenden and Anderson (1992),[20] Furnham et al. (1993),[21] Cohen and Ledford (1994)[22] and Katzenbach (1998)[23] were concerned with high performing teams and the objective measurement of their effectiveness. McFadzean (2002)[24] believed that the appearance of a number of models of team effectiveness was indicative of a variety of variables such as personality, group size, work norms, status relationships, group structure etc. that can impact on team ‘effectiveness’ and its measurement.

David Cooperrider suggests that the larger the group, the better. This is because a larger group is able to address concerns of the whole system. So while a large team may be ineffective at performing a given task, Cooperider says that the relevance of that task should be considered, because determining whether the team is effective first requires identifying what needs to be accomplished.

A team of oxen yoked together

Regarding composition, all teams will have an element of homogeneity and heterogeneity. The more homogeneous the group, the more cohesive it will be. The more heterogeneous the group, the greater the differences in perspective and increased potential for creativity, but also the greater potential for conflict.

Team members normally have different roles, like team leader and agents. Large teams can divide into subteams according to need.

Many teams go through a life-cycle of stages, identified by Bruce Tuckman as: forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning.


Of particular importance is the concept of different types of teams.

Interdependent and independent

One common distinction is drawn between interdependent and independent teams.[25] The difference is determined by the actions that the team members take while working.

Interdependent teams

A rugby team provides a clear example of an interdependent team:

Independent teams

On the other hand, a track-and-field team is a classic example of an independent team:[26]

If all team members each perform the same basic tasks, such as students working problems in a maths class, or outside sales employees making phone calls, then it is likely that this team is an independent team. They may be able to help each other—perhaps by offering advice or practice time, by providing moral support, or by helping in the background during a busy time—but each individual's success is primarily due to each individual's own efforts. Runners do not win their own races merely because the rest of their teammates did, and maths students do not pass tests merely because their neighbours know how to solve equations.

In the business environment, sales teams and traditional professionals (such as doctors, lawyers, and teachers), work in independent teams.[25] Most teams in a business setting are independent teams.[25]

Coaching differences between interdependent and independent teams

Coaching an interdependent team like a football team necessarily requires a different approach from coaching an independent team like a gymnastics team, because the costs and benefits to individual team members—and therefore the intrinsic incentives for positive team behaviors—differ markedly. An interdependent team benefits from members getting to know the other team members socially, from developing trust in each other, and from conquering artificial collective challenges (such as those offered in outdoors ropes courses). Interdependent teams respond well to collective rewards, and independent teams perform better with individual rewards.[27]

Hybrid teams and hybrid rewards, which try to combine characteristics of both, are sometimes created in the hope of getting the best of both types. However, instead, they tend instead to produce the negative features of each and none of the benefits, and consequently under-perform.[27]

Pressuring teams to become independent or interdependent, on the grounds that management has decided that one type is intrinsically better than the other, results in failure.[26] The nature of the team is defined by the type of work that is done, and not by management's wishes or by the fashions of the latest management fad.

Multidisciplinary and Interdisciplinary

Teams in areas of work or study such as in the medical field, may be multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary.[28]

Multidisciplinary teams involve several professionals who independently treat various issues a patient may have, focusing on the issues in which they specialise. The problems that are being treated may or may not relate to other issues being addressed by individual team members.

The interdisciplinary team approach involves all members of the team working together towards the same goal. In an interdisciplinary team approach, members of the core team will often rôle-blend, taking on tasks usually filled by people in different roles on the team.[28] A common interdisciplinary team approach popularized by IDEO is the Balanced Team. IDEO interprets the balanced team as a composition of three discrete factors: desirability, feasibility, and viability. These three factors are assumed through human/design-oriented resources, technical-oriented resources, and business-oriented resources.[29][30]

Categories by subject

A Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) team looks on after the Type 91 Kai MANPAD fires a rocket at a mock airborne target.

Although the concept of a team is relatively simple, social scientists have identified many different types of teams. In general, teams either act as information processors, or take on a more active role in the task and actually perform activities. Common categories and subtypes of teams include:

Executive team

An executive team is a management team that draws up plans for activities and then directs these activities (Devine, 2002). An example of an executive team would be a construction team designing blueprints for a new building, and then guiding the construction of the building using these blueprints.

Command team

The goal of the command team is to combine instructions and to coordinate action among management. In other words, command teams serve as the "middle man" in tasks (Devine, 2002). For instance, messengers on a construction site, conveying instructions from the executive team to the builders, would be an example of a command team.

Project teams

Main article: Project team

A team used only for a defined period of time and for a separate, concretely definable purpose, often becomes known as a project team. This category of team includes negotiation-, commission- and design-team subtypes. In general, these types of teams are multi-talented and composed of individuals with expertise in many different areas. Members of these teams might belong to different groups, but receive assignment to activities for the same project, thereby allowing outsiders to view them as a single unit. In this way, setting up a team allegedly facilitates the creation, tracking and assignment of a group of people based on the project in hand. The use of the "team" label in this instance often has no relationship to whether the employees work as a team.

Advisory teams

Advisory teams make suggestions about a final product (Devine, 2002). For instance, a quality-control group on an assembly line would be an example of an advisory team: they may examine the products produced and make suggestions about how to improve the quality of the items being made.

Work teams

Work teams are responsible for the actual act of creating tangible products and services (Devine, 2002). The actual workers on an assembly line would be an example of a production team, whereas waiters and waitresses at a diner would be an example of a service team.

Action teams

Action teams are highly specialized and coordinated teams whose actions are intensely focused on producing a product or service (Devine, 2002). An NFL football team would be an example of an action team. Other examples occur in the military, paramedics, and transportation (e.g., a flight crew on an airplane).

Sports teams

Main article: Sports team

A sports team is a group of people which play sports (often team sports) together. Members include all players (even those who are waiting their turn to play), as well as support members such as a team manager or coach.

Virtual teams

Main article: Virtual team

Developments in information and communications technology have seen the emergence of the virtual work-team. A virtual team is a group of people who work interdependently and with shared purpose across space, time, and organisational boundaries using technology to communicate and collaborate. Virtual team members can be located across a country or across the world, rarely meet face-to-face, and include members from different cultures.[31]

In their 2009 literature-review paper, Ale Ebrahim, N., Ahmed, S. and Taha, Z. added two key issues to definition of a virtual team: "as small temporary groups of geographically, organizationally and/ or time dispersed knowledge workers who coordinate their work predominantly with electronic information and communication technologies in order to accomplish one or more organization tasks".[32] Many virtual teams are cross-functional and emphasize solving customer problems or generating new work processes.

The United States Department of Labor reported that in 2001, 19 million people worked from home online or from another location, and that by the end of 2002, over 100 million people world-wide would work outside traditional offices.[33]

Team cognition

Team cognition has been defined as an “emergent state that refers to the manner in which knowledge important to team functioning is organized, represented, and distributed within team.”[34] This emergent state can manifest in two ways. Compositional emergence occurs when individual level cognition is similar in form and function to its manifestation at team-level. Compilational emergence, on the other hand, represents a greater degree of synergy among team members and represents a new-team level construct. As such, higher degrees of compilational emergence are more closely related to team process and performance than is compositional emergence.

Research into team cognition has focused on how teams develop mental models and transactive memory systems. Mental models refer to the degree in which team members have similar cognitive understanding of the situation and performance goals which include shared representations of the task. Transactive memory systems relate to how knowledge is distributed among team members and retrieved in a coordinated fashion, the way that team member rely on knowledge that is possessed by other members and how knowledge sets are differentiated within a team. The emergence of team cognition is thought to impact team effectiveness because it can positively affect a team’s behavioural process, motivational states, and performance.

Team cognition consists of two broad types of content. Task related models are related to knowledge of the major duties and resources possessed by the team. Team-related models refer to interactions and interdependence among the team members.

Team effectiveness

Main article: Team effectiveness

The formation of teams is most appropriate for tasks that are difficult, complex and important. These types of tasks are often beyond the skills and abilities of any single individual. However, the formation of a team to complete such tasks does not guarantee success. Rather, the proper implementation of teams is positively related to both member satisfaction and increased effectiveness. Organizations who want to receive the benefits afforded by teams need to carefully consider how teams are built and implemented. Often, teams are created without providing members any training to develop the skills necessary to perform well in a team setting. This is critical, because teamwork can be cognitively and interpersonally demanding. Even when a team consists of talented individuals, these individuals must learn to coordinate their actions and develop functional interpersonal interactions.[35] In their review of the relevant scientific literature, Kozlowski and Ilgen demonstrated that such training can greatly benefit team effectiveness.[36] Finally, teams are more likely to be successful when they are fully supported by the organization

Not all groups are teams

Some people use the word "team" when they mean "employees". A "sales team" is a common example of this loose or perhaps euphemistic usage, though inter-dependencies exist in organisations, and a sales group can be let down by poor performance in other parts of the organisation upon which sales depend, like delivery, after-sales service, etc. However "sales staff" is a more accurate description of the typical arrangement.

Groups develop into teams in four stages:[37]

  1. dependency and inclusion
  2. counter dependency and fighting
  3. trust and structure
  4. work

In the first stage, group development is characterized by members' dependency on the designated leader (identical to 'Forming' in Tuckman's model). In the second stage, the group seeks to free itself from its dependence on the leader and groups have conflicts about goals and procedures (identical to 'Storming' in Tuckman's model). In the third stage, the group manages to work through the conflicts (identical to 'Norming' in Tuckman's model). And in the last stage, groups focus on team productivity (identical to 'Performing' in Tuckman's model).

One aspect of teams that can set them apart from other groups is their level of autonomy. Hackman developed a hierarchical model of team autonomy which consists of four levels of team self-management. It is imagined along a continuum, starting with a manager-led team in which team members complete the required tasks but someone outside the team performs the executive functions. Next in the hierarchy are self-managing teams, followed by self-designing teams. Finally, at the top of the hierarchy, come self-governing teams. The model describes four different types of control that fully self-governing teams can possess. These include control over the execution of the task, monitoring and managing work processes, control over the design and performance of a team, and setting the overall direction of the team.[35]

To understand how teams deliver extra performance, we need to distinguish between teams and working groups. A working group’s performance is made up of the individual results of all its individual members. A team’s performance is made up of both individual results and collective results. Teams produce work products/results though the joint contributions of team members. This is what makes the team’s collective performance greater than the sum of all individual members’ best performance. In short, a team is more than the sum of its parts.[38]

See also

Look up teem or team in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to teams.


  1. Jain, Naresh (2009). "Run marathons, not sprints". In Davis, Barbee. 97 Things Every Project Manager Should Know: Collective Wisdom from the Experts. O'Reilly Media, Inc. p. 96. ISBN 9781449379568. Retrieved 2014-05-05. Team members need to learn how to help one another, help other team members realize their true potential, and create an environment that allows everyone to go beyond their limitations.
  2. Weiss, M. & Hoegl, M. (2015). The History of Teamwork’s Societal Diffusion: A Multi-Method Review. Small Group Research, Vol. 46(6) 589– 622.
  3. Cleland, David I. (1996). Strategic Management of Teams. John Wiley & Sons. p. 132. ISBN 9780471120582. Retrieved 2014-05-05. Managers may believe that the current use of teams is a management fad that will go away in time, and the traditional vertical organizational design will once again hold forth.
  4. Compare: Marquardt, Michael J. (2011). Leading with Questions: How Leaders Find the Right Solutions By Knowing What To Ask. J-B US non-Franchise Leadership. 180. John Wiley & Sons. p. 133. ISBN 9781118046784. Retrieved 2016-03-23. Margaret Wheatley (2002) observes that in too many organizations team is a four-letter word.
  5. Hackman, J. R. (2002). Leading teams: Setting the stage for greater performances. New York: Harvard Business School Press.
  6. 1 2 "Is Your Team Too Big? Too Small? What's the Right Number?". Knowledge@Wharton. University of Pennsylvania. 14 June 2006. Retrieved 22 November 2014.
  7. Business Insider "The 'Two Pizza Rule' Is Jeff Bezos' Secret To Productive Meetings"
  8. Chong, Eric (2007). "Role balance and team development: A study of team role characteristics underlying high and low performing teams" (PDF). Institute of Behavioral and Applied Management, Victoria University of Wellington. Retrieved 22 November 2014.
  9. 1 2 Belbin, R. M. (1981). Management Teams: Why They Succeed or Fail. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.
  10. Belbin, R. M. (1993). Team Roles at Work,. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.
  11. Woodcock, M. (1989). Team Development Manual. Gower: Aldershot.
  12. Margerison, C.; McCann, D. (1990). Team Management. London: W. H. Allan.
  13. 1 2 Davis, J.; Millburn, P.; Murphy, T.; Woodhouse, M. (1992). Successful Team Building: How to Create Teams that Really Work. London: Kogan Page.
  14. 1 2 Parker, G. M. (1990). Team Players and Teamwork: The Competitive Business Strategy. Oxford: Jossey-Bass.
  15. Spencer, J.; Pruss, A. (1992). Managing your team. London: Piatkus.
  16. Lindgren, R. (1997). R Meredith Belbin’s Team Roles Viewed from the Perspective of the Big 5: A Content Validation. Oslo: University of Oslo.
  17. Pervin, L. (1989). Personality: Theory and Research (5 ed.). New York: Wiley.
  18. Deihl, M.; Stroebe, W. (1987). "Productivity loss in brainstorming groups: towards the solution of a riddle". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 53 (3): 497–509. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.53.3.497.
  19. Gersick, C. J. G. (1988). "Time and transition in work teams: toward a new model of group development". Academy of Management Journal. 31 (1): 9–41. doi:10.2307/256496.
  20. Evenden, R.; Anderson, G. (1992). Making the Most of People. Cambridge, MA: Addison-Wesley.
  21. Furnham, A.; Steele, H.; Pendleton, D. (1993). "A psychometric assessment of the Belbin team role self-perception inventory". Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology: 245–257.
  22. Cohen, S. G.; Ledford, G. E. Jr. "The effectiveness of self-managing teams: A quasi-experiment". Human Relations. 47: 13–43. doi:10.1177/001872679404700102.
  23. Katzenbach, J. R. (1998). Teams at the Top: Unleashing the Potential of Both Teams and Individual Leaders. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
  24. McFadzean, E. (2002). "Developing and supporting creative problem-solving teams: Part 1 – a conceptual model". Management Decision. 40 (5/6): 463–476. doi:10.1108/00251740210430443.
  25. 1 2 3 Brounstein, Marty. "Differences between Work Groups and Teams - For Dummies". Retrieved 2015-09-10. Independent-level work groups are the most common form of work groups on the business scene... staff members work on their own assignments with general direction and minimal supervision. Sales representatives, research scientists, accountants, lawyers, police officers, librarians, and teachers are among the professionals who tend to work in this fashion. People in those occupations come together in one department because they serve a common overall function, but almost everyone in the group works fairly independently. [...] Members of an interdependent-level work group rely on each other to get the work done. Sometimes members have their own roles and at other times they share responsibilities. Yet, in either case, they coordinate with one another to produce an overall product or set of outcomes.
  26. 1 2 Eikenberry, Kevin (2011-02-17). Remarkable Leadership: Unleashing Your Leadership Potential One Skill at a Time. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 147–148. ISBN 9781118047552.
  27. 1 2 Gratton, Lynda (2015-01-15). The Key: How Corporations Succeed by Solving the World's Toughest Problems (in Dutch). HarperCollins Publishers India. pp. 40–41. ISBN 9789351770220.
  28. 1 2 Ferrell, Betty; Nessa Coyle (2006). Textbook of Palliative Nursing (2 ed.). Oxford University Press US. p. 35. ISBN 0-19-517549-2.
  29. Tristan Kromer (2015) "The Complete Team"
  30. IDEO "Our Approach: Design Thinking"
  31. Kimble et al. (2000) Effective Virtual Teams through Communities of Practice (Department of Management Science Research Paper Series, 00/9), University of Strathclyde, Strathclyde, UK, 2000.
  32. "Virtual R& Teams in Small and Medium Enterprises: A Literature Review".
  33. Pearlson & Saunders, 2001
  34. DeChurch, L.A.; Mesmer-Magnus, J.R. (2010). "The cognitive underpinnings of effective teamwork: a meta-analysis". Journal of Applied Psychology. 95 (1): 32–53. doi:10.1037/a0017328.
  35. 1 2 Forsyth, D. R. (2006). Teams. In Forsyth, D. R., Group Dynamics (5th Ed.) (P. 351-377). Belmont: CA, Wadsworth, Cengage Learning
  36. Kozlowski, S. W. J.; Ilgen, D. R. (2006). "Enhancing the effectiveness of work groups and teams". Psychological Science in the Public Interest. 7: 77–124. doi:10.1111/j.1529-1006.2006.00030.x.
  37. Wheelan, S. (2010). Creating Effective Teams: a Guide for Members and Leaders. Los Angeles: SAGE. Print.
  38. Group vs Team
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