Groups & Teams and Workplace Diversity


Groups and teams are two terms with different meanings. Teams are special types of groups. They are structured groups of people working on specified common goals that need coordinated interactions to accomplish certain tasks. This paper explains the differences between a group and a team and also examines the importance of workplace diversity in an organization, and how it relates to team dynamics in the work place.

Teamwork in most definitions classifies a team as a special group. To some management approaches, the difference between groups and teams is intermittent; in simple terms, teams are groups in work settings. Other approaches put emphasis on how the behaviors of teams differ from that of typical groups. Forsyth defines teams as structured groups of people working on specified common goals that need coordinated interaction to fulfill certain obligations (Levi, 2001). In this definition, one important feature is stressed; that team members work together on a common project for which they are all accountable. Nevertheless, there are other features that can be applied to differentiate between groups and teams (Levi, 2001).

One common differential feature between groups and teams is that part of the larger organization and its members has specialized knowledge, skills, and abilities that is associated to their duties. This is the reason why a family is not typically considered as a team; roles in a family are inherited and not directly linked to tasks. This distinction is also relevant to research on groups and teams (Olmstead, 2002). Typically, research on groups is performed in laboratory settings, whereas research in teams is typically executed in field studies that focus on the actual application of teams in the workplace (Olmstead, 2001).

A group is a more inclusive term than a team. A group ranges in size from two people to thousands, whereas a team has a narrow range of size. For instance, a pair of dating couples may be considered a group but not as a team. Similarly, social or political organizations are groups but not teams (Olmstead, 2002). Typically, teams are made up of four to twenty who interact with each other directly. A team cannot merely be equated to people who belong to the same group or who are co-acting in the same place (Levi, 2001).

Teams are special types of groups in which people work interdependently to achieve goals. There exist many different types of teams that are used in organizations for diverse purposes. The utilization of teams to perform tasks has a long history; however, there has been a transformation over the decade in their application which has expanded fast due to changes in the characteristics of workers, the nature of jobs, and organizational structure. The scientific study of group dynamics has undergone evolution to the point that where it offers many significant insights about how teams operate and how they can be changed (Levi, 2001).

A group cannot just be explained merely as a collection of people. Groups have several distinguishing characteristics: they all exist for some reason or purpose, that is, they have goals that are to some extent, shared by group members; group members are directly related to each other. All group members typically recognize that they have this relationship, and that they are bound together so that they mutually share the impact of things that occur to fellow group members; group members interact with one another (Levi, 2001). Communication between them is often seen by group members as a mechanism that is central to the group; group members recognize and acknowledge their membership; they have formal and informal rules, roles of the group control , and interaction of group members; members in a group influence each other, and the urge to remain in the group raises the potential for mutual influence; and lastly, groups satisfy members physical and psychological needs, so that they are motivated to continue to participate (Olmstead, 2002).

Importance of Workplace Diversity in an Organization

Workplace teams’ diversity has been increased by the changing workplace populations and contemporary organizational forms. As a result of these environmental changes, organizational work teams that are diverse are increasingly common. This work teams diversity may be in terms of sex, race, ethnicity, area of expertise, and other many other personal chacteristics that are increasingly common (Levi, 2001).

The Changing Workforce

Diversity in workplaces results to a number of different consequences for teams that make decisions. The ever changing national demographics in labor force account for the up ward trend to diversity in terms of gender, culture, and age. Diversity in gender has changed over the decade. Women are joining the workforce in large numbers. The US expected its workforce to be gender balanced by 2000. When this balance point was realized, the workforce as a whole was maximally diverse with respect to gender diversity. In addition, segregation in terms of gender in the workplace has been on the downward trend. According to Olmstead (2002), women in the US represent more than 35% of the workforce in administration and management. In other words, substantial gender diversity characterizes all but the highest level decision making teams in organizations.

According to studies by Johnson and parker, by the end of the 1980s, the United States Department of labor projected rapid rise in cultural diversity of the labor supply (Levi, 2001). Only 58% of those who joined employment were expected to be native whites who were the majority. Immigrants from African Americans and Hispanic Americans were to cover the remaining 42% (Levi, 2001). These national statistic states the extent of cultural diversity which is replicated in the labor force. For instance, increase in diversity of these immigrant groups has resulted in higher levels of racial integration in technical, clerical, and skilled jobs in the US (Levi, 2001).

How Team Dynamics Relate in the Workplace

Workplace teams are increasingly becoming diverse mainly due to changing workforce populations (Levi, 2001). Diversity has also been on the rise due to the development of new forms of organizations. The effect of globalization to business is a force that has shaped the new organizational forms (Olmstead, 2002).

For the purpose of succeeding in an increasingly competitive domestic and international market, many companies are using teams to look for new business strategies that stress on quality, innovation and speed. These work teams often converges together from previously marginalized sections of the organization, thus, forming occupational and knowledge based diversity. For instance, experts from a variety of knowledge background can assemble teams with the expectation that, that together they will produce two or more creative thinking and innovation (Levi, 2001).

Additionally, teams can also be to assemble together workers from two or more companies. For example, in order to enhance the quality of their finished goods, produce may include their suppliers as part of a product design team, and they increase end users in the team (Levi, 2001). Such collaborations need subunits from distinct organizations to coordinate their activities (Olmstead, 2002). Corporate cultures on the other hand, shape behavioral expectations and guides interactions among interdependent employees. Work teams are becoming more common and diverse in the world today. This enhances the importance of understanding the dynamics of work team’s diversity. Of specific significance is diversity within decision making teams. Today, many companies are rapidly restructuring to enjoy the potential benefits of diverse decision making teams. Specific advantages and disadvantages of work teams emanate directly out of diversity (Olmstead, 2002).


In sum, teams are special types of groups in which people perform tasks interdependently to fulfill set goals. Groups on the other hand, exist for some reason or purpose. They are formed for the purpose of achieving certain goal that is shared by group members. People in groups are related to each other, that is, they have common interests. They mutually understand that they are related or connected.

Team dynamics relate directly in the workplace. Workplace teams are diverse mainly because of dynamic workforce populations (Levi, 2001). There are a number of factors which influence this diversity, such as, increase in new forms of organizations, and the effects of globalization.


Levi, D. (2001). Group Dynamics for Teams. New York: SAGE.

Olmstead, J. (2002). Leading Groups in Stressful Times. New York: Greenwood Publishing.

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