Picture of Stephan van Rooden

Stephan van Rooden

Groups & Scrum: A group of people doesn’t make it a team!

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This is the first post in a series of blogs on groups and Scrum. This first blog will look into what a group is and into what makes a group into a team. In future posts I will explain more on why we do retrospectives, knowledge sharing in a group and much more. Let’s start with the definition of what a group is.

What is a group?

Take a look at these two pictures below:

 

Which one of these two do you consider to be a group? Most likely you chose the photo on top over the photo below. But why? Because implicitly, you already accept a definition of the term group close to the ones adopted by social psychologists:

A group consists of two or more interacting persons who share common goals, have a stable relationship, are somehow interdependent, and perceive that they are in fact part of a group (Paulus, 1989)1

So let’s build a definition.

The clearest characteristic of a group is that there are two or more people in social interaction. This can be either verbal or non-verbal (exchanging smiles in a hallway), either way, both parties must have some impact on each other to be considered a group.

Of course two people smiling doesn’t make a group immediately. Passing each other in a hallway is not a stable structure. There must be some stable structure in a group. Groups can change but there must be some stable relationships which keep the group together and functional. A constantly changing collection of individuals (people entering and exiting a train) are therefore not considered a group.

When members share a common interest or goal, it characterises another aspect of being a group. Without this common goal it is impossible to construct a group.
Are people in line for a checkout a group? They share the same goal, paying for their items they intent to purchase.

The three characteristics mentioned above, a stable collection of two or individuals sharing a common goal, do not yet make it a group. Because here comes the cool part. A collection of individuals only makes a group if the individuals involved perceive themselves to be a group. So probably the people in line for checkout do not consider themselves to be part of a group. Don’t you agree?

Why do people join groups?

We already stated that people join groups to pursue a common goals or to satisfy a mutual interest. This allows us to achieve things that would not have been possible alone. Making groups makes a lot of sense. Consider an organisation for example; this is a perfect example of a collection of groups focussing on achieving a mutual goal. However, there are other reasons why people join groups.

Next to satisfying mutual interests, being part of a group provides a sense of security. Finding safety in numbers. The more you are, the better you stand. Why would we have unions that represent a collection of individuals against the power of corporations?

Groups also serve basic psychological needs. People are social animals; they have a basic need to interact with others. As Maslow’s need hierarchy describes, the need for interaction, there is another need that is fulfilled by being part of a group. Being part of a group also nurtures self-esteem. Belonging to a successful group boosts self-esteem of the individual’s that are part of the group.

From groups to becoming a team

Putting some people together doesn’t make them a group immediately. Let alone make them a team. This may be a bitter pill for most managers. Usually these managers talk about resources instead of people. They are truly fond of throwing some people together and saying to them ‘you are now a team’ magically makes them a team. But for a group to become a team takes some time, in some cases this can take forever! So how does this work?

Tuckman identified five stages a group goes through before they are able to function as a team. This five stage model of group development is very well know and looks like the model below.

With every team I have coached, I have seen this pattern. Even when the team composition changes, every time the team will go through these phases.

 

So a collection of individuals doesn’t make a group; and a group doesn’t make a team. This takes time and requires stability.

When you have a team and when using Scrum, one of the events that really benefits from a team effort is the Sprint Retrospective. But why is the retrospective for a Scrum team this important?

When you understand the theory behind groups and teams and know about the benefits and risks being part of a team brings, you better understand why Retrospectives are this important.  More on this in my next post.

 

1Paulus, P.B. (Ed.). (1989). Psychology of group influence (2nd ed.) Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum

 

More to explore

3 things to make a giant leap towards Agility

If you don’t take decisions, focus on the outcome and get things done? Your transformation program, Agile Way of Working implementation, Lean initiative or whatever you do, will end up with all those other frameworks you have tried to apply before.

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