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The only difference I see is that "we've been getting the ball rolling" means that it has happened for a continuous time in the past, and "we've got the ball rolling" mean that the ball has rolled, but for an unknown amount of time in the past and may still be rolling. Is that a fair assessment?

One problem is that it's an idiom, so I don't know if I can change the tense in any way I want.

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We have been getting the ball rolling

indicates that the process happened during the relatively recent past (and may be continuing in the present) but is not yet complete.

We are getting the ball rolling

indicates that the process is happening currently but is not complete.

The typical use of progressive tenses is to indicate activity occurring over a period before completion.

We have got the ball rolling

indicates that the process was completed in the recent past.

We got the ball rolling

indicates that the process was completed in the past. It would usually refer to a relatively distant past unless there was a specific phrase denoting when completion occurred as in

We got the ball rolling just fifteen minutes ago

There is no doubt that English tenses are subtle.

EDIT: What makes your specific example particularly confusing is that it involves the idiom "get the ball rolling." The meaning of that phrase is to complete the first task in a series of tasks or else to start to work on something expected to take considerable time. Thus, the very concept of completion is slightly inconsistent with the meaning of the phrase. Use of the progressive thus fits well with its meaning.

We have been getting the ball rolling

can be translated as

We have started but are nowhere near done with even the initial steps

Whereas

We have got the ball rolling

can be translated as

We have finished the preliminary steps (but of course there many yet to go).

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  • Isn't we got the ball rolling in present perfect continuous? Present perfect continuous can be used to talk about an action or actions that started in the past and continued until recently or that continue into the future. So shouldn't it mean it wasn't necessarily completed in the recent past?
    – Sayaman
    Feb 3, 2019 at 21:16
  • The verb here is the simple past of "get" in the sense of "succeed." So we "we got the ball rolling" means "we succeeded by making the ball roll." Notice that we do not need to to use a participle of "rolling" to express the sense. "Rolling" in "we got the ball rolling" is a participle modifying "ball" to distinguish it from a ball that is absolutely still. As I said in my answer, this is a tough one because it involves an idiom with a meaning that really has nothing to do with balls at all. – Feb 4, 2019 at 3:26

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