The wisdom of teams revisited

Teamwork, teaming and working for the common good


Advances in Project Management


By Prof Darren Dalcher

Director, National Centre for Project Management
Lancaster University Management School

United Kingdom


One of the distinctions of project work is that it is done by dedicated teams of people, often acting outside the normal organizational structures associated with ‘regular’ work. Projects can thus be said to bring together collections of individuals who are focused on the achievement of specific objectives and targets. Teams can thus be viewed as the main way through which work gets done and value is delivered to organisations and societies. Such teams are often formed for the duration of the project and disbanded following the delivery of the objectives.

Yet, the terminology we use to describe such collections of individuals is frequently problematic and laden with different meanings: Indeed, the common interpretation of terms such as teams and groups can often be confusing.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a team as ‘two or more people working together’. It further elaborates that to team up is to ‘come together as a team to achieve a common goal’. The Cambridge English Dictionary describes the verb team as ‘to act together to achieve something’. The definitions chime with the view of US industrialist, Henry Ford who asserted that ‘coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.’

In contrast, the Oxford English Dictionary views a group as ‘a number of people or things that are located, gathered or classed together’. The Cambridge English Dictionary views a group as ‘a number of people or things that are put together or considered as a unit’.  The Collins English Dictionary offers a much wider set of definitions, including: ‘a number of people or things which are together in one place at one time; a set of people who have the same interests or aims… who organize themselves to work or act together; or a set of people, organizations, or things which are considered together because they have something in common’. Confusingly, it also designates the verb form of grouping together as ‘a number of things or people… that are together in one place or within one organization or system’.

The Merriam-Webster English Dictionary offers a more comprehensive definition of a group encompassing: ‘two or more figures forming a complete unit of composition; a number of individuals assembled together or having some unifying relationship; an assemblage of related organisms—often used to avoid taxonomic connotation when the kind of degree of relationship is not clearly defined.

The terms team and group are often used interchangeably. So, are the terms really exchangeable or is there a fundamental distinction between them?

The difference between groups and teams

In reality there are some subtle, as well as many clear distinctions. In a nutshell, individuals in groups work independently addressing their own agenda and priorities, whilst teams tend to collaborate on a single purpose or overarching goal. Groups may coordinate the individual efforts, whilst teams collaborate on achieving their common purpose often displaying mutual commitment. Teams bring together a range of expertise and capabilities needed to combine and deliver meaningful results and often extend beyond organisational silos or functional structures. Teams are also more likely to be employed on temporary endeavours, providing a focused and cross-functional orientation supplemented by closer relationships and a sense of community. The result can be viewed as the ability to emphasise communal performance rather than celebrate individual achievements (Dalcher, 2016a; p. 2).

Teams often develop a collective identity and a greater responsibility for one another whilst supporting the wider group. Members are interdependent acting out of collective interest and maximising the greater good by focusing on the main goal and key objectives. Team members develop a deeper mutual understanding that enables them to maximise the interest of the collective, with high performing teams benefitting from the synergistic impacts of the assembled team.

Scottish-American philanthropist and industrialist, Andrew Carnegie determined that ‘Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.’


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Editor’s note: The PMWJ Advances in Project Management series includes articles by authors of program and project management books published by Gower and other publishers in the Routledge family.  Each month an introduction to the current article is provided by series editor Prof Darren Dalcher, who is also the editor of the Gower/Routledge Advances in Project Management series of books on new and emerging concepts in PM.  Prof Dalcher’s article is an introduction to the invited paper this month in the PMWJ. 

How to cite this paper: Dalcher, D. (2018). The wisdom of teams revisited: Teamwork, teaming and working for the common good, PM World Journal, Volume VII, Issue IX – September. Available online at https://pmworldjournal.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/pmwj74-Sep2018-Dalcher-the-wisdom-of-teams-revisited.pdf


About the Author

Darren Dalcher, PhD

Author, Professor, Series Editor
Director, National Centre for Project Management
Lancaster University Management School, UK



 Darren Dalcher, Ph.D. HonFAPM, FRSA, FBCS, CITP, FCMI SMIEEE SFHEA is Professor in Strategic Project Management at Lancaster University, and founder and Director of the National Centre for Project Management (NCPM) in the UK.  He has been named by the Association for Project Management (APM) as one of the top 10 “movers and shapers” in project management and was voted Project Magazine’s “Academic of the Year” for his contribution in “integrating and weaving academic work with practice”. Following industrial and consultancy experience in managing IT projects, Professor Dalcher gained his PhD in Software Engineering from King’s College, University of London.

Professor Dalcher has written over 200 papers and book chapters on project management and software engineering. He is Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Software: Evolution and Process, a leading international software engineering journal. He is the editor of the book series, Advances in Project Management, published by Routledge and of the companion series Fundamentals of Project Management.  Heavily involved in a variety of research projects and subjects, Professor Dalcher has built a reputation as leader and innovator in the areas of practice-based education and reflection in project management. He works with many major industrial and commercial organisations and government bodies.

Darren is an Honorary Fellow of the APM, a Chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society, a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute, and the Royal Society of Arts, A Senior Member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a Member of the Project Management Institute (PMI) and the British Academy of Management. He is a Chartered IT Practitioner. He sits on numerous senior research and professional boards, including The PMI Academic Member Advisory Group, the APM Research Advisory Group, the CMI Academic Council and the APM Group Ethics and Standards Governance Board.  He is the Academic Advisor and Consulting Editor for the next APM Body of Knowledge. Prof Dalcher is an academic advisor for the PM World Journal.  He is the academic advisor and consulting editor for the next edition of the APM Body of Knowledge. He can be contacted at [email protected].

To view other works by Prof Darren Dalcher, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/darren-dalcher/.