What makes a team?



Stage 1

Agile IQ® Level

Team Setup



How do you define what makes a team? How are teams different from just a group of people working together?

More than an existential thought exercise, actually figuring out the memberships, relationships, and responsibilities of individuals all working together is critical to increasing team effectiveness.

Several definitions of teams are used in the academic literature, in some of which the words for “team,” “group,” “work group,” and “work unit” are used as synonyms while in others these are seen as different things. A useful definition reads that a team is:

"A collection of individuals who are interdependent in their tasks, who share responsibility for outcomes, who see themselves and who are seen by others as an intact social entity embedded in one or more larger social systems (for example, business unit or the corporation), and who manage their relationships across organizational boundaries. (Cohen & Bailey, 1997, p. 241)"

This definition clearly distinguishes between teams and groups.

Group work

People in groups are related through a traditional traditional bureaucratic work organisation. They might coordinate their work, but their tasks are separate, not truly interconnected, and not related to a shared goal. A person does their work, hands it to the next person, and gets on with their next task.

Team work

Teams goals, though, can’t be achieved with this way of working. Team goals can only be realised by the whole team. Their focus is on achieving the goal first before taking on new work. Work in a team isn’t, therefore, optimised for the efficiency of one of its members over the others. 

Benefits of team work

  • More effective
  • Faster decision-making
  • Increased productivity 15-20%
  • Higher quality
  • Achieve goals more often
  • Feel more useful
  • Feel more challenged


Shared Goal

Teams perform better if the goals that guide work are clear, specific, and challenging rather than vague, ambiguous, and unchallenging. Goals activate motivational mechanisms that stimulate performance. Four stimulating mechanisms are: direction, effort, perseverance, and strategy (Latham & Locke, 1991, 2013). 


Agile teams are cross-functional, meaning the members have all the skills necessary to create value each Sprint. They are also self-managing, meaning they internally decide who does what, when, and how. 

Agile teams are designed so they don’t have to rely on people outside of the team to deliver value. Relying on people outside the team to, for example, approve work or provide quality assurance, delays the delivery of value.

The Law of the Small Team

Agile teams are small enough to remain nimble and large enough to complete significant work within a Sprint, typically 10 or fewer people. In general, we have found that smaller teams communicate better and are more productive.

If agile teams become too large, they should consider reorganising into
multiple cohesive agile teams, each focused on the same product. Therefore, they should share the same goal.


Cheney, G., Christensen, L. T., Zorn, T. E., Ganesh, G. (2011). Organizational communication in an age of globalization: Issues, reflections, practices (2nd ed., pp. 215251). Long Grove, ILWaveland Press.

Delarue, A., Van Hootegem, G., Procter, S., Burridge, M. (2008). Teamworking and organizational performance: A review of survey-based research. International Journal of Management Reviews, 10, 127148.

Loerakker, B., and Kirsten van de Grift, K. (2015). The effectiveness of self-managed teams and self-leading teams measured in performance , quality of work life and absenteeism

Sutherland, J. and Schwaber, K. (2020) The Scrum Guide. The Definitive Guide to Scrum: The Rules of the Game.

Van der Hoek, M., Groeneveld, S., Kuipers, B. (2016) Goal Setting in Teams: Goal Clarity and Team Performance in the Public Sector.

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