Work Groups: What They Are and Tips for Managing Them
Updated February 28, 2023
Managers implement several strategies to encourage their employees to collaborate and meet their goals. One strategy is to create functional work groups within a department or office. If you're interested in learning more about managing a group of people, you may benefit from learning about work groups.
In this article, we define work groups, provide reasons to join these groups, explain the difference between work groups and teams and offer tips for managing these groups.
What are work groups?
Work groups are a collection of people within a workplace who collaborate to achieve specific goals, tasks or projects. Some work groups last for a few months, while others stay together for many years. The purpose of these groups is for employees to collaborate and participate in individual and collective work.
Typically, individuals within a work group have personalized goals to meet, and they determine success based on each individual's performance. However, some work groups operate more collectively, measuring success by the outcome of the group as a whole. Common work group goals may include:
Creating informational documents for the department
Resolving a problem
Planning an event
Improving a system the company uses
Researching innovative new ideas
Implementing new standards for the department
Why do people join work groups?
There are a variety of reasons people may choose to join work groups. Sometimes, their manager asks certain people to participate in a group. Other times, voluntary work group opportunities are available within the workplace. Some main reasons to join or form a work group may include:
Hear multiple perspectives
One key reason to join a work group is to hear multiple perspectives. These groups function as sites for collaboration and communication with many different people. This can lead to members hearing from others with different perspectives. Work groups that value a diversity of opinion can develop effective solutions to challenges or issues within the workplace.
Share the work
Sometimes, a manager may choose to form a work group because of a complex project. Rather than assigning the work to one person, the work group provides an opportunity for employees to share the work. This can help people develop collaboration skills and work effectively to ensure they complete their individual aspects of the project.
Implement different skills
Bringing employees together within a work group allows people to implement their different skills. Each member of the group has their own talents and abilities that can effectively contribute to the group's goal. By assigning tasks based on a group member's specific skills, the group has the potential for long-term success.
Build lines of communication
It's important to build open lines of communication within the workplace. Creating a work group provides opportunities for employees to get to know one another. Additionally, by collaborating on a project or task, members of the group can practice their communication skills. Even after the work group ends, these employees may still connect with one another or collaborate on work in the future.
If you work in a large company, there may be few options for every employee to feel involved. Joining a work group is one way to encourage participation among employees. Often, work groups contribute to the overall business, so participation may help employees feel that their work has influence. Additionally, work groups provide a way for everyone to speak up and have their voice heard within the workplace.
Related: How To Engage Employees
Types of work groups
While each company can create work groups based on what works best for their employees, there are three main types they might choose. Types of work groups include:
Dependent work groups
These are traditional groups that operate under the direct supervision of a manager or supervisor. The manager is responsible for telling each employee what tasks to accomplish. Often, members of these groups spend less time working collaboratively and more time focused on completing their own assignments. However, employees in these types of groups rely on their management to understand the scope of their work.
Independent work groups
These work groups provide employees with more independence than dependent groups since they usually have minimal supervision. In this group, employees typically work on their own assignments with limited direction or general guidance.
It's common for independent work groups to exist within the same department and work towards the accomplishment of one main function. For example, the human resources department can operate as an independent work group. Each employee in the department works to creating a positive company culture, yet recruiters, trainers and HR managers work independently of one another.
Interdependent work groups
These work groups function as a team because they rely on each member of the group to accomplish their work. Sometimes, group members share responsibilities to accomplish the group's goal. These work groups coordinate with each other frequently to complete tasks and finish projects. This coordination generates a team-like atmosphere within the group.
Work groups vs. teams
While some work groups may function as teams, not all of them operate in the same way. There are a few main differences between work groups and teams, which include:
Time period: It's common for teams to work together continuously, while work groups may only work together for a specified period of time.
Accountability: On a team, members take both individual and collective accountability for work. Often, work group members focus solely on individual accountability.
Goals: It's common for teams to have collective goals that the group works toward, while work groups have individualized goals.
Leadership: Work groups often receive guidance from a manager, while teams can function with internal leadership.
Tips for managing successful work groups
Here are a few tips for managing a successful work group:
Organize the group's work
If you manage or lead a work group, it's best to organize the group's work so each member knows what tasks they need to complete. Organizing the deadlines, expectations and assigning processes can lead to success within the group. Additionally, organized work helps members understand the expectations and goals of the work group.
Form the group thoughtfully
As you begin to form a work group, it's important to think carefully about which employees to include. You might analyze the group's goals and choose employees best suited for the tasks involved in the project. Another strategy is to select members randomly or on a rotating basis. A thoughtfully structured group may have a higher chance of success accomplishing the group's main task.
Manage the processes of the group
As work groups begin to form, there may be an adjustment period. This period of time helps members of the group become familiar with the system and with each other. After this period, the group can typically perform well together. It's important for work group managers to assess how well a group adjusts to new processes. This can ensure that members feel prepared for success within the group.
Related: Guide to Group Dynamics
Include everyone's ideas
As the group works together, it's crucial to include everyone's ideas and opinions. This creates a work group that's inclusive and receptive to the multiple perspectives and ideas of its members. When a group is able to include the thoughts, opinions and perspectives of its members, it may have more potential for success.
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