by Kevin McManus, Chief Excellence Officer and Systems Guy, Great Systems

How many teams do you have?

To begin with, you have at least one team in place already (unless all of your employees work in isolation). In most cases, organizations have at least two of the three main types of work groups in place – focus and work teams. These groups may not be very effective, or they may not have the cohesiveness you desire and in turn you choose not to call them teams, but they depend on each other to get the work done each day. That is how I decide when I should assign the ‘team’ label to a group of people. Do they depend on each other to get the job done?

Aren’t there more than three types of teams?

In my opinion, no. It depends on how you define a team of course. I base my definitions on the job design that either allows, or requires, them to work together. I have also learned through experience that any organization needs three types of work groups to reach optimum effectiveness and effectively pursue process excellence – process / work teams, project teams, and focus teams.

Quality circles, kaizen teams, tiger teams, six sigma teams, improvement teams, and problem solving groups are all examples of project teams. These groups take time away from their ‘regular jobs’ to develop and implement improvement projects. a work, or process, team is made up of people that work together for a majority of the day, even though their degree of self direction, or autonomy, can vary. A focus team is analogous to a safety committee, steering committee, recognition board, or management group. Like project teams, they tend to be cross-functional, but they also endure over time to support the primary goals of the organization.

DISCOVER MORE: Characteristics for Three Team Types

Why are all three team types needed?

Work teams are needed to drive continuous improvement in an organization. Since they do not have much time away from the job to meet, they do not have time to develop projects. They should be identifying projects that need to be implemented, but the lack of time for this type of work limits their ability to do so themselves. That is why project teams are needed – time is needed away from the job to work on projects. A person may be on both a work group and a project team, but that does not have to be the case. Finally, focus teams are needed to maintain a constant focus on those performance areas that are key to the organization, such as safety, cost reduction, waste reduction, recognition, and management.

If there are only three team types, what’s with all of the different names?

A cynic would say that a lot of these names were created simply to help consulting firms make more money (since quality circles did not work, why don’t you try using problem solving teams?). Some group names however help indicate differences in design or focus within each of the three major groups. Kaizen teams are structured in a manner that allows a project to be developed more quickly (usually days) than the more traditional quality circle could develop one (usually months). The degree to which self direction can be given to a work team tends to result in additional names for this team type. The need for several key performance areas results in a variety of names for focus (or special purpose) groups. The key distinction to keep in mind relates to how one’s job is designed to support team involvement.

EXPLORE MORE: Frequently Asked Team Engagement Questions


Facilitating and Leading Teams Workshop


If you would like more information about the team engagement and effectiveness tools I have to offer, please send me an e-mail at

How do I know what a great team looks like?

Each work group type has its own set of factors that are used to gauge effectiveness. In my “Are Your Teams Working? – Keys to Team Effectiveness” workbook, I give you tools that can be used to define and assess effectiveness for each type. In general however, team effectiveness is gauged by (1) output (what management really cares about) and (2) cohesiveness, with cohesiveness being necessary to help drive high levels of output. Keep in mind however that most work groups fail not because of low cohesiveness, but instead because they are not properly supported in the areas of information, recognition, resources, and alignment.

How can you make each team in your organization great?

My goal is to help you use the workbooks, workshops, and articles featured on this site to (1) develop engaged and effective teams, (2) design excellent processes, and (3) sustain great results without having to spend a lot of money or time. I truly believe that an organization cannot attain such goals without having effective work, project, and focus teams in action. I can help you improve your work groups in several ways, such as facilitating a training workshop, helping you design an effective team infrastructure, or providing your with tools to help you gauge the effectiveness of your existing work groups.

Keep improving! – Kevin McManus, Chief Excellence Officer and Systems Guy, Great Systems

If you would like more information about the team engagement and effectiveness tools I have to offer, please send me an e-mail at

Team Effectiveness Book