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Teamwork – Tour de Farce or Team de Force?

December 1, 2008 Articles, Teams & Team Building 1 Comment


What’s the big deal about teamwork?

Do you manage a team or a group? The distinction is an important one, because there’s no point in trying to develop a team ethos amongst a group of people who have no real need to engage in teamwork.

It’s probably fair to say, that by now most followers and even casual observers of the recent Tour de France, expected the race to throw up some drug cheats.  True to form, we were not disappointed.  At the time of writing, four riders have now failed drug tests and been disqualified (not to mention being taken away by the French police!).

But the race has also thrown up an interesting question.  Why did the teams of the first two disqualified riders continue in the race, while another, Sunier Duval-Scott withdraw all their riders?  Commentators and keen followers of the sport are divided as to whether the two teams, while not legally obliged to do so, were morally obliged to withdraw.

But there might be another angle to this question.

Cycling is often seen as an individual sport – to the uninitiated it appears as if it’s “everyone for himself”.  In fact, one of the most often asked questions by the uninitiated is “How can one man be helped by his team mates when they are all on separate bikes?”

How do the individual cyclists engage in teamwork?

As in key businesses, the answer of course is teamwork, particularly dependence on one another for success.  For example in cycling, good teams protect their key riders by allowing them to draft along in the pack out of harm’s way.  Various team members will also take the lead in the pack at certain times to either slow or speed up the race to suit their key riders.

The best three teams on the tour in terms of overall results were Garmin, CSC and Columbia.  It is commonly known that they also have the best morale, friendship and motivation.  Therefore they have a strong culture of teamwork. Interestingly these three teams are the only ones with independent (and extremely costly) drug testing.  Whilst these teams are truly multinational, the members of these teams are all great mates.  Their on the road performances have been superb, tactically perfect and perhaps this is due in a major part to their trust in and dependence on, their fellow team mates.  With their testing of every single aspect of their health, there would be no way of cheating whilst in these teams – therefore effective teamwork and 100% confidence by their fellow team mates and their bosses.

Compare this with the reports on some of the other teams where there is often a split within the team along nationality or language lines (often English, Spanish and Italian).

My contention is that the successful teams are just that, “teams” and have a culture of teamwork, whereas those less successful operate as “groups” and do not engage in teamwork.  The way teams and groups are managed is quite different.

As managers, do you have a team or a group?

Many managers waste a lot of time trying to develop team work amongst a group of people reporting to them who do not have any need to work cooperatively together, or form up as a team.  They all have different functions and they don’t rely on each other to achieve their individual results.  In sport for instance, some Olympic “teams” are in fact groups, where the success of one member does not impact the success of others, for example, individual swimming events.

So, what’s the difference between a group and a team?

Groups are formed by at least two people who interact and may share some interrelated task goals.  However, the majority of the work group members do can be done without relying on other members of the group.  For example, often the “top team” of the organisation is in fact a group rather than a team.  The members each have a defined area of responsibility – perhaps they all contribute to the broad goal of “organisation success” and perhaps there are elements of collaboration required to achieve that broad goal – but most of their own function may be successfully managed without having to rely on all of the other “top team” members.

Teams on the other hand, are groups that have three additional characteristics that set them apart – and it’s these characteristics that makes teamwork essential:

  • Members must depend on one another to achieve their task goals
  • Each member must have a particular role to play in the team
  • There must be team goals and objectives that can only be achieved by all the team members contributing to a team total output. (In a team, If one member doesn’t fulfil his or her role, it’s not just that person’s own functional area that fails, the whole team fails.)

In sport, two good examples of where true teams are required, are cricket and baseball.  In both . . .

  • Every member has to be able to bat – the team goal is to score more runs than the opposition.
  • Every member has to be able to throw and catch a ball – they must all have at least a basic level of hand/eye coordination. The team goal is to restrict the opposition to as few runs as possible.
  • Some members, as well as being able to bat, throw and catch, need to have specialist skills if the team is to be successful. In baseball, for example, it’s the pitcher and catcher; in cricket it’s the bowler and wicket keeper.
  • In both games, teams can only be successful when every member of the team feels confident that he or she can rely on every other member of the team to make a competent contribution and do his or her job well.

Does your situation call for teamwork or group work?

The consequences of making that decision, can greatly impact:

  • Your time management. Teams are likely to take more time initially to develop teamwork. However once they are working well, they can become almost self-managing.
  • Your form and style of communication. If you have a group, you will need to do far more one-on-one communicating – your style can also be more varied depending on the needs of the situation and the personality of the particular group member. With teams, there will be far more one-to-team and intra-team communication – your style will need to be far more collaborative (if not, morale and motivation are likely to drop off).
  • Your “team building” initiatives. With groups, your efforts should be more directed to social interaction – collaboration will be built through personal relationships, not the dependence on one another for results. With teams, you will spend more time in problem-solving, team building exercises and team role definitions, thus teamwork.

The recent Tour de France has provided us with a very strong message for managers.  The team that had the best results – CSC – with overall winner, best young rider and best team, showed true teamwork throughout the race.  People helped one another, leadership was shared – even the most experienced of commentators could not tell you who the team leader was until very late in the race.  In fact, leadership changed throughout the race with quite a number of members taking the leadership role as the situation demanded.

Charles Handy would have been proud to see his “distributed leadership” model being played out so successfully in the World’s biggest annual sporting event.

If you have the responsibility for managing the performance of a group of other people, it may be time to consider the question – “Do I have a group or a team?”, and if you have a team focussing on its culture of teamwork.

© The National Learning Institute


About the Author -

Bob Selden is the author of the best-selling “What To Do When You Become The Boss” – a self-help book for new managers – see details at He’s also coached at one of the world’s premier business schools, the Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland and regularly advises managers around the globe on their current challenges. Please add your comments to this article or contact Bob via if you would like some free advice on your current management challenge.

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