Picture of Stephan van Rooden

Stephan van Rooden

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


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

Overhead het hoofd bieden

Een veelgehoorde misvatting over het gebruik van Scrum is dat het veel ‘overhead’ zou geven. Naar mijn idee is dit niet juist.