We don't refer to the Dallas Mavericks as the group that won the NBA Championship. We say the Dallas Mavericks are the best team in the league, most would argue the world. What about a group of firefighters that spends a ton of time together, perfecting their relationships. They work on the same wave-length during an emergency because of this closeness. Certainly language stronger than a "group" of firefighters is needed to describe them. In order to be the best they can be, they need to come together as a team. A group implies a mere collection of parts. The word team marks when that mere collection of parts shifts to relationships focused on trust, collaboration, and care. Teams elevate the work of the whole above the singular. The sum of the whole is more than its parts.
Awhile back I remember my sister (a sophomore in high school) really complaining about group work. I was concerned about her objections because I would like to consider peer assistance and cooperation as cornerstones in the classroom. Then I heard her jump at hanging out with her soccer team at the movies later that evening. At that moment I had an epiphany. My sister hated group work because it is not focused on teamwork. If teachers want high quality and equal work (effort) to be done in collaborative projects, a shift needs to occur. For high level projects we need to start thinking of them as team projects, where students come together not as a mere collection of parts, but rather an interlocking web of dependence and mutual enjoyment.
If we as teachers give tasks or assignments where a loose group of individuals, that have no relationship suffices, maybe we should rethink that activity. This means the task and project design are very important. Additionally, this calls for students to focus on the teams they create (or the teacher creates). This can be done by listening to student input for selecting "teams" or even allowing students to pick the people they will work with. It may mean spending more time on team building exercises or simply stressing that you are a team that works together.
Why stop at small teams of students, shouldn't we see the whole classroom as a team? Having students buy into this team concept may sound cheesy, but is something I am really going to work on for the next school year. The mere shift of approaching students' peer work as teamwork rather than group work may have a profound significance on the dynamic of collaboration in the classroom.