Team Member vs Staff

If you are following me on social media you would have seen me pose this question before – are your employees’ Team Members of Staff? 


Let’s kick this off by looking at how the words are defined on dictionary.com:1

  • Staff – a group of assistants to a manager, superintendent, or executive. Alternatively, they suggest it is a group of persons, as employees, charged with carrying out the work of an establishment …;

  • Team – a number of persons associated in some joint action; and finally

  • Member – a person, animal, plant, group, etc that is part of a society, party, community, etc. 

So if you take the definition of Staff and compare that to a combined definition of Team Member you might reasonably conclude that, at least on the surface, Staff and Team Member are for all purposes the same thing by definition. 

This is of course not surprising but for me, it is more than what the word literally means but more importantly what feelings are associated with the word(s) being used. 

For example, to me ‘Team Member’ is more inclusive than saying ‘Staff’, and less hierarchical.

I am of course not the only one that has this opinion CMO at AWeber Erik Harbison shares his views on this topic in this Huffpost.


While it may seem academic to many from my personal experience the inclusiveness of “team member” helps from a tone and organizational culture perspective. 


However go back to September 23, 2009, and you can listen to me talking about ‘Staff’ in my previous podcast 60 Seconds with JB, take a listen here. In fact, I was routinely using the term ‘Staff’ until I joined Target as Head of Customer. 

Very early in my Target journey, my manager pulled me aside and explained that the CEO didn’t like the term ‘Staff Member’ and preferred Team Member. I can’t remember the exact reasoning but after a while, it stuck with me and the more that I thought about it the more I agreed Team Member was better. 


At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter if you use Staff, Team Member, Crew or some other term – it matters how you engage with your team. 


In the above-mentioned podcast I refer to three key focus areas for leaders when it comes to your employees:

1. You need to know who they are;

2. Encourage and Empower them; and

3. Celebrate success.


I believe these three areas are key to being a great leader. 


Remember the experience your customers talk about is the one created by the employees who either love or hate, working for you and your business.