The research literature is replete with definitions of teams. In fact, I’m sure I’ve seen at least 50 definitions over the years – some informative; others providing greater confusion than clarity.
Why So Many Definitions?
Why are there so many definitions of teams? There are at least a couple reasons. First, the concept of teams have changed as understanding of the topic has matured. Second, many of the definitions are dependent on the type to team.
Unlike my comprehensive list of innovation definitions, my purpose with this post is not to develop a repository of the many different team definitions. Instead, I seek to highlight a couple definitions I find to be most useful. Having a clear definition increases the likelihood that two or more parties will have a common starting point to discuss a topic. Plus, I’m a believer that operationally defining terms can minimize confusion.
First up is a definition from Kozlowski and Bell (2003):
…are composed of two or more individuals who (a) exist to perform organizationally relevant tasks, (b) share one or more common goals, (c) interact socially, (d) exhibit task interdependencies (i.e., work flow, goals, outcomes), (e) maintain and manage boundaries, and (f ) are embedded in an organizational context that sets boundaries, constrains the team, and influences exchanges with other units in the broader entity.Kozlowski & Bell, 2003, p. 334.
Arguably this is not the most concise definition, but where it lacks in brevity it makes up in comprehensiveness.
A similar type definition, but more concise, has been been put forth by Salas, et al. (2017):
…a set of two or more individuals that adaptively and dynamically interacts through specified roles as they work towards shared and valued goals.Salas, Rico, & Passmore, 2017, p. 3.
One thing I like about this definition is it makes reference to the adaptive and dynamic nature of teams. Many definitions consider teams to be static entities that don’t change after their formation.
Do You Have A Favorite Team Definition?
What’s your favorite definition of a team? How does it inform how you lead or participate in the team? Feel free to leave a reply with your favorite team definition.
Kozlowski, S. W. J., & Bell, B. S. (2003). Work groups and teams in organizations. In W. C. Borman, D. R. Ilgen, & R. Klimoski (Eds.), Handbook of psychology: Industrial and organizational psychology: Vol. 12 (pp. 333-375). London: Wiley.
Salas, E., Rico, R, & Passmore, J. (2017). The psychology of teamwork and collaborative processes. In E. Salas, R. Rico, & J. Passmore (Eds.), The Wiley Handbook of the Psychology of Team Working and Collaborative Processes (pp. 3-11). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell.