In the world of contemporary business management and leadership training, the phrases “group dynamics” and “team dynamics” have essentially become interchangeable. Yet, there is a difference between the two – an important difference – that can lead to failure of your team if you fail to recognize it.

Group Dynamics vs. Team Dynamics

According to the website Team Technology, a simple definition of group dynamics is, “Groups are a social community, consisting of two or more people who have something in common.” Conversely, and critically, “A team is a special instance of a group in which the commonality is a shared goal.”

The difference between the two is clear when you consider the ways in which individuals respond to each other when the merely have “something in common”, versus the ways they will react when striving to reach a common goal. The conscious and unconscious thinking, as well as the type of effort they may make, is manifestly different between a simple group and a team. In fact, being a member of a team promotes an entirely different dynamic than simply being part of a group; since now, each member is dependent upon the others for their success – as individuals and for the team as a whole.

For example: does your company have a “sales team” in place? What is their incentive to work together? Aren’t they paid commission based on their individual performance? Since their success is not affected by the other members of “the team,” they are actually a group – not a team.

However, in a production line, where every member of the “production team” has an effect on the performance of others, there is truly a team atmosphere, requiring trust and loyalty among the members.
While the differences between group dynamics and team dynamics may seem small at first, when examined more closely you can see an important difference – it has to do with the presence of a shared goal. As soon as the goals of the individuals become more important than the shared goal of the team things break down. The leader’s job is to determine what pulls the team together, and what pulls them apart. If individuals are behaving like a group, they more than likely in survival or scarcity mode and not aligned around a common goal, vision, purpose, or values. Some of the conflict goals are harder to spot than others.