(626) 799-3418
Email Julie


Team, Group, or Train Wreck?

Teams and teamwork are among the most frequently written about and searched for topics in business today. From senior executives to frontline supervisors, leaders everywhere are looking for strategies to get the most from others.

The first and most fundamental challenge they face lies in vocabulary… because the term ‘team’ is used very casually and with little precision. In most organizations, any collection of people is referred to as a ‘team’; yet very few of them actually are. Many are just groups… and there’s nothing wrong with that. Others, however, are complete train wrecks.

Consider Your Collection

What about the people who work for you? The table below contrasts the three possible scenarios.



Train Wreck

Pursues a joint goal Pursues individual goals Goals? What goals?

Optimizes interdependencies Understands the need to depend upon each other It all ‘depends’ upon the day

Operates from a genuine sense of respect Adheres to ground rules that include respect With all due respect, it doesn’t happen

Addresses differences proactively and honestly Experiences conflict as an impediment to results Always up for a good fight

Communicates generously and often Communicates on a ‘need to know’ basis Communication is over-rated

Appreciates the strengths and skills of each team member Knows who the ‘stars’ are Knows who’s screwed up

Behaves accountably routinely Strives to meet expectations and deadlines Provides reasons and excuses

Learns from set-backs and failure Deals with set-backs and failure Hides set-backs and failure

What’s the Difference?

Teams are different from other collections of employees in several important ways:

A shared purpose, mission, or goal is as a central feature of any team. Members understand the big picture, why they are working together, and the specific difference their joint effort will make.

Teams understand the unique contributions of each individual and how those discrete contributions flow up- and down-stream. They understand the handoffs, who’s depending upon them for what, and why each step is important – to the team, the organization, and the customer.

Because of this deep appreciation for the contributions of each member to the joint mission, teams operate from a natural sense of respect. While they might have ground rules that include respectful behaviors to demonstrate, most team members volunteer respect organically and authentically.

Teams are able process differences in a healthy way that builds trust and improves business results. Because of the respect and commitment to the mission that they share, team members address issues early, before conflict festers. They communicate honestly with a shared dedication to positive outcomes.

Communication is the lifeblood of teams. They share information freely and with a frequency that ensures that everyone knows what they need to know when they need to know it. They err on the side of more rather the less, learning over time what matters to whom and how to best exchange it.

Teams feel a strong commitment to each other and their joint outputs; as a result, they demonstrate accountability. They say what they’ll do and do what they say. When commitments can’t be kept, they let others know proactively and take responsibility to mitigate problems.

Mistakes and challenges are not team-breakers. In fact, they are team-makers. Teams are able to extract learning from what goes wrong, plan alternate action, and support each other through the disappointments. They deal with failure in a constructive fashion that builds relationships, resilience, and future results.

And, the most important difference between train wrecks, groups, and teams is leadership. Leadership that understands these factors and consciously works everyday to facilitate them. Leadership that brings people together through a shared mission, communication, role clarity, respect, conflict resolution, and trust. Leadership… that’s you.

What about you? How else would you distinguish between train wrecks, groups, and team? What do the most effective team leaders do to promote teamwork and team results?

Images: www.dreamstime.com

6 comments on “Team, Group, or Train Wreck?

  1. Carrie K. on

    Absolutely love this post, Julie! I have never thought about the difference between “teams” and “groups”, but it makes so much sense. I appreciate that you point out that groups aren’t always a negative thing, but they are different, and should be seen as such. I have to wonder if there are some settings where recognizing and embracing your “group-ness” rather than forcing “team” might actually be healthier and more productive. Certainly something to think about. Excellent post. 🙂

    • Julie Giulioni on

      I think you’re right, Carrie. Let’s get clear on the nature of the work and how best to organize people behind it. By being intentional about what’s expected of a collection of people, we can make sure that energy is properly balanced between the human and task dimensions of work. I appreciate you taking the time to comment!

  2. Duncan Brodie on

    Great post. Particularly liked the table contrasting team, group and train wreck.

    I think in great teams there is a truly supportive environment where people have the opportunity to have a go, in the knowledge that they will not be blamed or made scapegoats if things don’t work out as planned.

    • Julie Giulioni on

      I couldn’t agree more, Duncan. Experimentation is key to continuous improvement, innovation, and so much more. Yet too frequently the culture of an organization can make it really hard and scary for people to try new things. A constructive view of mistakes and failure – and a commitment to getting learning rather than revenge for them – will support team performance and results. Thanks so much for sharing your thinking here!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.