It was back in 2013 when I switched to a job where I first heard work groups (or departmemts/divisions) to be referred to as "teams".

The mid-level managers who were using the word "team" were clearly meaning to convey that we, workers, should work together like players in a team sport. The vibe of a sport playground, the agility, the ability to feel each other's pulse and efficiently collaborate/play together towards a win was what they mostly wanted from us.

Those managers were clearly belonging to the majority population who passionately followed sport events, watched matches, used the slang in every day life, considered that to be a norm for most if not all (as oppposed to regarding it just as a personal passion) and hence got rather prejudiced towards / annoyed by those who did not fit in.

From their point of view, working as teams was the only right way of working: if you are not a team, the business is doomed. If you are not a team player, you've got to be fired.

That approach was rather distressing to me who 1) Virtually never liked or followed any team sport; 2) Came from academic/scientific background where people also worked together efficiently, but the manners and habits were totally different from those in a sport team: tact, poise, intellectualism, dignity etc. were there at play instead.

I did manage to cope / adapt so that eventually was not an issue.

However, in hindsight, I now wonder where did it all come from? And when? And just why now everyone calls work groups teams and workers team players?

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    Why do you think team refers to or derives from sports team? More likely it is simply the general meaning of team (a number of persons associated together in work or activity). In any case, working in the Netherlands, it has been referred to teams at least since the end of the `90s (when I entered the workforce), and since this is an anglicism, I assume the use in context of work in English-speaking nations is even older. May 18, 2022 at 8:25
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    The fact your manager seems to use a teamsport metaphor for management style/coordination might be problematic/weird, but that has nothing to do with the use of the word team itself. Conflating these two issues only muddles the water, I think. You should focus on the actual problem. May 18, 2022 at 8:28
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    I suspect some people may find umbrage at your categorisation that sport does not contain tact, poise, dignity, or even intellectualism. May 18, 2022 at 8:48
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    Your question suggests that you do have a problem with this management style, and - in my opinion - incorrectly attribute that to the use of the word team. May 18, 2022 at 8:52
  • 5
    That type of question is off-topic here (it is not a "[..] practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face"). It might be on-topic on English Language & Usage Stack Exchange May 18, 2022 at 9:01

2 Answers 2


"Work groups" have been called teams as long as the word has existed in its current usage, probably for hundreds of years.

You have back-ported the usage of sports teams onto a word that started meaning people accomplishing a task together, taken from the team of draft animals that did work. The word works fine without the sports analogy. What it does tend to connote is a group that works together, versus a hierarchical organization where bosses tell subordinates what to do.

In my personal experience, I worked at a factory that started in the 70's under the "High Performance Teams" concept, which had no management on shift. It isn't new.


Terms evolve, I have heard teams, workgroups, gangs used almost interchangeably. Teams in a work context has nothing to do with sports that I know of. Just as a shearing or forestry gang has nothing to do with criminal organisations.

  • Of course there is no direct connection to sport, but I guess you aren't denying the indirect connection — the parallel/analogy with how people get along/cooperate in a sport team, are you? Conversely, shearing or forestry gangs have absolutely nothing to do with criminal gangs (apart from being groups of people), so I don't think this analogy works.
    – Greendrake
    May 18, 2022 at 10:59
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    Same thing, a group is a group. A team is a team. You can call a forestry gang a team if you want, still no connection to sport. Gang and team are slang terms associated with criminals and sports. Both were in use long before they gained those meanings.
    – Kilisi
    May 18, 2022 at 11:03
  • So, are you saying that calling a work group "team" does not imply that they get along with each other and behave in a cooperative fashion just like sports team players do?
    – Greendrake
    May 18, 2022 at 11:08
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    Nope.... it means whatever they want it to mean at the time. What do you think a workgroup is supposed to do if not work together in a cooperative and professional manner? It's just a catch word
    – Kilisi
    May 18, 2022 at 11:09
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    Most likely the use of team for people working collectively, and a sports team both derive from the use of team with the meaning "two or more draft animals harnessed to the same vehicle or implement" (e.g. a team of horses pulling a carriage). Be happy that your manager doesn't use a whip ;) May 18, 2022 at 13:47

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