Millennials: Will Work Well In Groups

Myth/Overused Stereotype #146 about Millennials: they are known for collaboration and to be fluid team players. A trait that could be mapped to the current education system consistently promoting group work; so let me get this straight, we currently have a narcissistic generation who also likes to collaborate and work with a team? That seems somewhat unhealthy. Maybe even an oxymoron or more realistically, a group that cannot and will not operate efficiently and effectively.

I’m not quite sure how many “group projects” you’ve worked on, but in my high school and college experience (2003-2011, prime formative GenY years) a group project was met with anxiety, rolled eyes, and immediate over-the-shoulder looking to evaluate if the “worst” person you could potentially work with truly isn’t “that bad,” right?

What caused this change in the education system? Why are we now completing more group projects than in the past? It’s simple mathematics, if I’m a teacher or professor… Do I want to grade 23 papers or 4 papers? Hum… I’ll take 4. And yes, I went to a private liberal arts school and it is possible to have only 23 people in a class. Disclaimer: if any of my business professors are reading this – I truly did enjoy my time and don’t judge me for wanting to get A’s on your group projects. All in a day’s work. I loved my time at Mount.

When you go to a Division III private liberal arts school, you have to take majestic photos.

When you go to a Division III private liberal arts school, you have to take majestic photos.

Now that we’ve discussed one reason why there is a shift to group work, let’s assess how these group projects truly work.

Cast: The Annoying, Control Freak Over-Achiever, Slacker #1, Slacker #2, and Will Follow Orders

The Annoying, Control Freak Over-Achiever reads the assignment and delegates work. Will Follow Orders completes minimal research on Wednesday and sets up a second group meeting on Thursday, the day before the assignment is due. Slacker #2 doesn’t show up to the meeting, Slacker #1 wants to makes sure they get the grade and asks, “So what part of the presentation am I doing?” And The Annoying, Control Freak Over-Achiever has already put together the entire project to be delivered the next day.

If you’re wondering… I may or may not have played the first role of The Annoying, Control Freak Over-Achiever sans Annoying of course.

At the end of the day a class project results in a grade.  The Annoying, Control Freak Over-Achiever is only worried about chasing an “A” and truly does not care how he/she gets there. Does this promote great group work? You can be the judge. If you played The Annoying, Control Freak Over-Achiever in school, you despised group work. If you played any other role, you loved group work. Simple.

So when does it make sense to engage in group work at the office?

When Group Work Works for Millennials:

  • They’ve had time to ideate alonegroupthink is powerful, I’d argue too powerful to overlook with a group of 20 something’s.
  • A clear business challenge or innovative approach will be discussed – chasing a grade is easy, but finding a solution as to why company “x” is spending too much money on base compensation for their sales people has an ambiguous result – we don’t know exactly what we’re chasing and therefore, we have to stretch.
  • It comes sparingly – when working in a group it’s a chance to dig out from the “cube life.” If you do something too much it loses meaning. Very similar to praise, don’t just do it because Milennials supposedly “thrive” in that environment. But rather view it as, hey, it’s nice to every once in a while talk to other humans. Even more so when you’re getting paid to actually talk about an innovative approach or solve a problem.

If you’re in GenX or a Baby Boomer, don’t take my word for it or even one of the 808,000 Google results for (“millennials” AND “group work”), ask one of your millennial co-workers about their group projects in high school and college. That will result in some valuable water cooler talk, not to mention hopefully it’s entertaining.

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