A penchant for teamwork

Cites consultant Kerry J. Sulkowicz
Featured on BostonWorks.com

A defining trait of Generation Y is the penchant, and talent, for working in teams.

Brothers Enzo Marchio and Johnny Marchio and their cousin Antonio DeFabritiis are equal owners of Enzo & Co., a Newbury Street hair salon, and they are a good example of this team mentality. Unlike entrepreneurs of the past, who were often loners uncomfortable functioning in a larger organization, these three would never think of going it alone.

”Everything is easier if we work as a team,” DeFabritiis says. ”This is how we were brought up.”

Being part of a team is the best way for today’s new workers to get interesting high-level jobs. Even though reams of research show the effectiveness of teams in the workplace, baby boomer management has had a tough time with implementation.

Bruce Tulgan, founder of Rainmaker Thinking and co-author of ”Managing Generation Y,” explains that there was a big shift in parenting, teaching, and counseling in the mid-1980s because of research in childhood self-esteem. ”These kids are very well-versed in getting along with others, collaboration skills, feeling part of a team, and having good communication skills,” he said.

Teams appeal to young workers because they have no interest in boring or ancillary workplace tasks, even at the entry level. Well-constructed teams provide an opportunity to be a decision maker and a key contributor early in one’s career.

”Generation Y-ers like teams because they are pulled out of the hierarchical structure,” Tulgan said. ”On a team, it’s not about what is your experience, but what can you do today.”

Older, more experienced workers are more comfortable in hierarchies, especially since they are most likely to be on top. Often, Tulgan says, the idea of a corporate team is meaningless. ”People just change the sign on the door from human resources department to human resources team,” he said.

Jeff Snipes, chief executive of Ninth House, an online learning, leadership development, and employee training firm, says a hierarchical, leader-oriented team was appropriate for earlier generations. ”Traditionally, if you worked up ranks for 20 years and all the employees were local, then you could know all the functions of the workplace,” he said.

”Then you could lead by barking orders. But today, everything moves too fast and the breadth of competency necessary to do something is too vast.”

Competency-based teams, where everyone comes to the group with a different skill and work together on a specific project to build something bigger than themselves, are the most effective. On these teams, everyone is an important decision maker and is able to make a difference.

Snipes suggests that you ask the following questions of a company you’re considering to make sure they use this sort of team. (Note to managers: Ask yourself how you’d answers these questions. You need good answers if you’re going to attract good workers in the coming years.)

  • What sort of talent development does the company provide? A company committed to team leadership trains people to do it.
  • Is diversity a priority? When it comes to teams, diverse input leads to more effective outcomes. Diversity is important not only in terms of race and culture but in terms of the way people think.
  • Is there a reward system in place for teams? If a company rewards only individual achievements, then individuals will have less incentive to make teams work.

But let’s be real. Not everyone can stomach working on a team.

”There will always be some people who feel constrained being part of a group,” says Kerry Sulkowicz, founder of the Boswell Group and adviser to CEOs on the psychological aspects of management. ”There are different types of
personalities, and it’s not as simple as being part of a generation.”

Sulkowicz says to think of it as a spectrum: Everyone needs time alone, but some people need very little and some people need a lot. For those of you who don’t do your best work in teams, take solace in the fact that baby boomers still run the workplace, and they’re not big on teams, either.

Penelope Trunk can be reached at penelope@penelopetrunk.com