Not all workgroups are work teams, and vice versa.

Sometimes, managers as well as team members are confused as to the differences between workgroups and work teams. This confusion can have a direct impact on the effectiveness of a team, and its’ success.

Both workgroups and work teams have their respective place within an organization. Both can be highly effective and successful. It is when and how they are implemented that will determine their eventual success rate.

Let’s examine the traits of work groups.

There are three major types of workgroups – dependent, independent, and interdependent.

A dependent workgroup is a traditional department with a manager who plays a strong role as leader. Each employee has his own job and assignment. Employees work under the direction of the manager. Most problem solving, work assignments, and other decisions come from the manager.

This type of workgroup is best for maintaining the status quo.

An independent workgroup is currently the most common form of workgroup found in an organization. It is similar to a dependent workgroup in the sense that each person is responsible for his own work. But unlike the dependent workgroup, the manager does not function like a controlling leader. Instead, employees work on their own assignments with general direction and minimal supervision.

This type of workgroup works especially well in a department where the employees have extensive experience and knowledge. Subject matter experts are allowed to utilize their expertise to benefit the customers.

An interdependent workgroup is a group that has to rely on each other to get the work done. Workgroup members have their own roles and their own responsibilities. But they have to coordinate their work with one another to produce the final product or the final result.

A classic example of an interdependent workgroup is an assembly line or production line. Each member has an assignment or piece of work, but the end product is not determined until the end of the line.

Interdependent workgroups are very effective for high functioning and high producing. They are a quick fix.

On the flip side, work teams have several traits that differentiate them from workgroups. When managers decide what type of work structure to establish – whether it is for everyday use or for a particular project/problem – they should examine these differences and use them to help determine what structure to use.

Work teams focus more on long-term goals and objectives. Many, but not all, teams are formed to work on projects. The projects are frequently cross-departmental, and involve team members from various parts of the organization.

The work team usually schedules meetings to discuss planning, decision making, problem solving, and business requirements. The work being done is not necessarily task-oriented, but usually more process-oriented.

Employees frequently switch assignments to learn more about the business. Sometimes this results in a learning curve, but if the overall goal is not impacted, it is not considered a detriment.

The skill sets of employees vary between workgroups and work teams. Last week, JobsSunday examined the traits and skills needed to be a successful work team member.

Workgroup members tend to have stronger skill sets related to working individually and independently. They usually prefer to work on their own work and not be involved with others, unless it has a direct impact on their efforts.

It’s important for managers to realize that they probably have a mixed bag of employees when it comes to who is better suited for work teams as opposed to workgroups. And if both structures exist in the workplace, it is equally important for managers to be able to assign employees to the right one.

Employees who are better suited to a workgroup environment should have equal and ample opportunities to utilize their skills. Managers want to ensure that those employees better suited to work teams are not overly favored. It is a delicate balance.

Too good to be true? Next week, JobsSunday examines job offer evaluations.