“The people under 30 get it. It’s second nature to them.”
“We have a bifurcated workforce.”
“Let’s just turn the keys over to the Millennials. They get it. We don’t.”
These are some snippets of conversation from well-intentioned change agents who overemphasize generational differences while attempting to transform their organizations into collaborative enterprises. In The Bounty Effect: 7 Steps to The Culture of Collaboration®, I identify this scenario as the Generation Gap Trap. It’s a trap, because overemphasizing generational differences reinforces fear and internal competition which short circuit collaboration.
Undoubtedly, younger team members who are so-called “digital natives” are accustomed to using tools such as texting, instant messaging, and social media. It takes more than using tools, though, to collaborate. In The Culture of Collaboration® book, I define collaboration as working together to create value. And it’s quite possible to text, IM, or use social media without creating any value.
The point is that age is by no means a predictor of collaborative behavior. Some people right out of college or graduate school internally compete while they use “collaborative” tools and technologies. Meantime, collaboration is baked into the behavior of some team members in their fifties and sixties. Some disciplines like aerospace engineering or animation are inherently collaborative, and therefore experience in these fields is a better predictor of collaborative behavior than age. I have worked with some “boring” industrial companies in which people work together to create value far more easily and often than team members in supposedly collaborative Silicon Valley companies.
After seemingly endless media reports describing how millennials demand a collaborative workplace, a new CEB study indicates that millennnials—those born between 1980 and 2000—are the most competitive generation in today’s workplace. Among CEB’s findings are that millennials are more driven by performance relative to others than by absolute performance and that millennials are less likely to trust peers and their peers’ input. Trust, incidentally, is one of the 10 Cultural Elements of Collaboration that my colleagues and I have identified. Without trust, collaboration is dead on arrival.
In an August 1, 2015 “Schumpeter” column in The Economist, the unidentified columnist explores some of these millennial myths and cites the CEB study. The columnist incorrectly concludes from the research that to motivate young team members, organizations should put less emphasis on collaboration. The real take-away regarding the CEB study is that emphasizing generational differences is folly.
De-emphasizing collaboration because millennials are less motivated by it would pander to a generation without guiding it. Instead, doubling down on adopting collaborative organizational structures and cultures will ultimately motivate team members regardless of generation and create far more value than command-and-control and internal competition.