Why Millennials Crave Collaboration (& What You Can Do About It)

Date: Jul 18, 2014 8:30:00 AM

A few weeks ago, we discussed how a collaborative CRM is the key to managing Millennial adults, those folks between 18-34 who are entering the workforce in droves.

Any time a new generation starts taking center stage, it’s important to learn more about its members, what makes them tick, and what this all means for the various companies that are welcoming them with open arms.

So let's dig deeper and talk about one of the BIG things this generation is known for: Why do Millennials crave collaboration as much as they do?

1. They grew up with a group sensibility.

Millennials learned the art of collaboration at a young age, thanks to team sports and group projects in school, and, as this article from Recruiter.com says , "[t]hey expect that group mentality to carry over into the workplace."

As a result, Millennials will likely respond well to assigned group projects at work, team building exercises, and “fun” group activities (think Segway games, summer BBQs in the parking lot, ice cream socials) since these things will nurture their group sensibility.

2. They were encouraged to foster independent thoughts and opinions.

If you're from Gen X or the Boomer generation, you might have been raised with the "kids should be seen, not heard philosophy." Not so with Millennials. From the moment they learned to talk, Millennials were encouraged to have opinions about everything under the sun, even their favorite brands.

An article titled "How Millennials Are Changing the Face of Marketing Forever" states "Millennials expect a two-way, mutual relationship with companies and their brands. We call this the reciprocity principle. Through the feedback they express both offline and online, Millennials influence the purchases of other customers and potential customers. They also help define the brand itself."

We think this "reciprocity principle" applies to all aspects of their lives, including life at work. On the job, they expect to give feedback, and they expect to receive feedback. It's as simple as that.

3. They're accustomed to widely sharing their thoughts and opinions, thanks to social media.

Even older Millennial adults came of age during the dawn of Facebook and Twitter. And they probably don't remember a world before Google. Being able to voice their opinions—in chat rooms, forums, Yelp reviews, Facebook comments, and so forth—is something that comes naturally to the Millennial generation.

In an article called "Millennials Crave Firstness, Inspiration, and Collaboration: 3 Stats," the author says, "Millennials use their social channels as an expression of themselves, their personality, their individuality."

4. They've grown up with egalitarian principles.

This goes hand-in-hand with our first point, but it's worthy of its own number. From an early age, thanks to team sports and group projects, Millennials learned to appreciate and celebrate every person on the team. To wit, sporting events were notorious for awarding trophies to everyone on both teams, winners and losers, in an effort to promote a sense of fairness.

This egalitarian ethos is something that Millennials bring with them to today's workforce. We're not here to judge or debate the merits of this philosophy. We're here to point out that because of this experience, Millennials have a special appreciation for the team—the whole team—which means Millennials believe that everyone should have the opportunity to contribute and have their voices heard.

So what does this "collaboration craving" mean for your company? Do you need to turn the way you do business upside down simply to accommodate this new generation? Nope, we're not suggesting that. Instead, look at this as an opportunity to reexamine how your organization conducts business. After all, one of the challenges for any company is meeting the needs of its diverse workforce. Revisiting this important point on a regular basis makes sense.

Here are some ideas to consider for managing millennials:

1. Offer mentoring, but get creative in how you approach it.

The traditional one-to-one format where a senior member mentors a newbie might not be the way to go, especially if you're hiring more and more Millennials. Yes, you can still offer the traditional option, but consider options that will work for Millennials while still benefitting older generations, such as reverse mentoring (where a junior member of the team mentors a senior mentor on something the senior mentor wants to learn more about, such as social media). This would help your senior members stay current, and it provides an outlet for those Millennials who are eager to share and collaborate.

2. Audit how feedback is given.

Working in a vacuum without any feedback is not an ideal situation, regardless of the generation you belong to. We need feedback to improve, to know we're on the right track, and to move forward with projects. Those of us from Gen X and the Boomer generation are probably quite familiar with annual performance reviews. Here's the thing: a once-a-year review is not enough for Millennials (and, frankly, it probably isn't enough for older generations, since we live and operate in a 24/7 world where things can change in an instant).

It makes sense, as you welcome younger employees into the fold, to review how feedback is given at all levels of your organization. Perhaps consider more regular performance reviews (maybe quarterly) while encouraging managers to provide regular informal feedback to everyone—not just Millennials.

3. Use tools that naturally encourage collaboration.

You must balance the needs of your newer workers with the needs of your senior employees. Collaboration is a newer concept for Boomers, so you should allow for a learning curve. Using tools that encourage collaboration naturally—from shared folders in the cloud, to group video chats, to collaborative CRMs—is a great way to introduce the concept of collaboration across the board and see how people respond to it. It will satisfy Millennials' needs without completely abandoning all the methodologies your company and older employees may have been successfully using for years.

What are your tips for fostering a more collaborative work environment? Share them with us in the comments.

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