While work groups and functional teams are the same to some people, distinctions do exist.
A work group is made up of members that can represent one unit (functional area) or several units or functional areas. Let’s look at an example — a work group made up of members from IT, customer support, and sales. The assignment of the group is to meet once a month and discuss problems that the call center has experienced over the previous month. They review reports and provide comment. Their comments are then forwarded to the VP of Business Services. While they have a common purpose, they do not have specific goals and objectives (remember objectives include concrete measures) and they do not hold each other mutually accountable.
By definition a team has a common purpose, goals and objectives, and holds it members mutually accountable (Katzenback and Smith, 1993). Don’t confuse the definition of team with the definition of a cross-functional team as this will lead you down the wrong path (Cross functional team is defined in the PDMA Glossary as “A team consisting of representatives from the various functions involved in product development, usually including members from all key functions required to deliver a successful product.”)
Now, let’s look at an example of a functional team. Some have indicated that a functional team is not really a team at all. However, PDMA suggests that they are one type of a team. Can a functional team have a common purpose, goals and objectives, and old it’s members mutually accountable? Of course. Let’s consider an example — a team made up of members associated with a call center (a single functional unit). The purpose of the team is to identify problems that are encountered by the call center that can not be solved by a level one call representative. Then the team is tasked to find new processes and solutions to the identified problems as well as incorporate training on the new processes and solutions for call center representatives. A goal of the team is that 95% of calls can be handled by level one call representatives. An objective is that the statistics for any given month will reflect that 95% or more of calls are handled by level one call representatives. The team holds each other mutually accountable. They work as a team. Success or failure is the success or failure of the team and not an individual.
So, what do you think? Do you see a difference between a work group and a functional team?
Katzenback, J. R. and Smith, D. K. (1993). “The Discipline of Teams,” Harvard Business Review, pp 111-120.