Teamwork At Work?

Try an experiment with me. The next time you eat in the company cafeteria or attend a company happy hour or picnic, find the largest single group of people. They’ll be the ones laughing and making a lot of noise at the long tables, or the ones who instantly dropped all their things and started a pick-up volleyball game with dubious rules. There will be a lot of them and chances are, if you came back the next day, you’ll find almost the same exact group together. And if you’re like most other companies, this group is almost entirely made up of millennials.   

More than any other generation, millennials have an embedded fondness for team structures. Whether its lunch groups, cocktail circles, or pick-up sports games, millennials gravitate more toward one another socially than past generations, and this translate directly into how we approach projects. And this is nothing new. Try something else with me. Picture a millennial. What does your immediate picture look like? You’re probably thinking of a talkative group of young professionals, wearing jeans, working on laptops, and lounging around a common-space of brightly colored beanbag chairs, right?

That’s a little bit of an exaggeration, but when I asked you that question you likely thought of a group instead of a single individual. That’s how ingrained teamwork is to millennial culture! Even when we think of a millennial we very often think of a group instead of an individual. And this group dynamic translates directly into a strong support of teamwork among millennials. The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) recently conducted a survey and found that 92% of millennials in the workplace believed that teamwork made at least some positive difference in solving problems and improving creativity.

So if millennials are strongly conditioned towards teamwork and believe it is an effective method of problem solving, then why do so many millennials “job hop” frequently? Surely if millennials really bought into the whole teamwork attitude they’d be even more inclined to stay on with a single company, right? Well, therein lies another generation divide. Back in our post “Stop. Drop. Next Payroll,” we found that of the millennials we surveyed across the country, not a single one thought that staying at the same company was the best way to advance their career. So why is this the case?

The Harvard Business Review conducted a study on Senior Leadership teams and found that nearly all of the 120 top executive groups they studied around the world believed they had set, and clear team structures. However of those same 120 teams, fewer than 10% of participants could actually identify who exactly was on their team. And remember, these are senior executives! So if companies are unsure of their teamwork structure at the top, it’s a pretty safe bet to say that that doubt trickles down throughout the organization. And if you think millennials don’t pick up on that…we do!

Whether you are personally a fan of group projects and collaboration or not, it’s important to at least acknowledge that it is a large, expected part of the expanding workforce. Many companies start off on the right track with millennials and foster their built-in team-structure with collaborative on-boarding. Large consulting firms, investment banking companies, and tech giants view each year’s crop of new millennials as the “[Company Name] Class of 2017,” and organize a great entry week.

But here’s the disconnect. After the on-boarding process ends, many companies then scatter their new employees throughout their divisions with minimal direction and no attempt to maintain the group culture they spent a week installing. Even in companies with young career development programs this can still pose a problem. If those programs do not make it easy to play into millennials’ inherent team-structure then they actually create a grind for millennials who want to actively seek collaboration.

It seems intuitive that companies would want to tap into this existing behavior and some have with great success. If I asked you to tell me the names of some of the companies you think millennials would want to work for (Google, Facebook, etc), chances are you’ll start to see a picture of how those companies play into their young employees social strengths.

Truly effective teamwork requires a supportive foundation and the truth is that the culture of cubicles just doesn’t cut it any more. If only 10% of those senior executives felt that they could actually pick out the members of their own teams, imagine how hard it must be at those companies for managers and directors to identify their own teams. Now think of how hard it must be for entry-level personnel at those companies to figure out whose team they belong to!

Now I’m not saying that millennials have to work together all the time. That would be foolish. In order to grow as professionals everyone needs their own subject expertise, development plans etc. But when team structures within a company are fuzzy or weak, and millennials feel like they have to overcome obstacles just to collaboration, it can create a sort of motivational pitfall. Simply put, if companies do not make an investment in trying to encourage teamwork, then they run the risk of losing out on top talent millennials who gravitate towards more collaborative environments.

What do you think about collaboration in the workplace? Do you agree that millennials actively seek teamwork opportunities? Head back to Base Camp and join the conversation!