Teamwork is a great way to sidestep office hierarchy

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After reading the comments people posted about rankism, it occurred to me that the idea of teamwork is very related. Teamwork that is merely cosmetic (e.g. a department that calls itself a team) reinforces rankism. But real teams are actually the opposite of rankism — they are flat, temporary, and assume equal contribution from everyone, no matter where they fall in the office hierarchy.

One of the defining traits of Generation Y is their penchant, and talent, for working in teams. Enzo Marchio, Antonio DeFabritiis, and Johnny Marchio are equal owners of Enzo and Company, a hair salon, and they are a good example of this team mentality. Unlike entrepreneurs of the past, who were typically loners, uncomfortable functioning in a larger organization, these three would never think of going it alone. DeFabritiis says, “Everything is easier if we work as a team. And it's more fun.” When asked how he learned to work well in 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 work for themselves. However even though reams of research shows 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 80s 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.

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 ones career. According to Tulgan, “Generation Yers like teams because they are pulled out of the hierarchical structure. 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 the workers most likely to be on top. Often, according to Tulgan, the idea of a corporate team is meaningless; “People just change the sign on the door from human resources department to human resources team.” And, if Boomers do form teams, they are often hierarchical teams where there is one leader who tells everyone else what to do.

Jeff Snipes, CEO of Ninth House, a provider of online education, including optimizing team effectiveness, says a hierarchical, leader-oriented team was appropriate for earlier generations: “Traditionally if you worked up ranks for twenty yeas and all the employees were local then you could know all the functions of the workplace. 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.” The most effective teams today are competency-based teams, where each person comes to the group with a different skill and they work together for a specific duration on a specific project to build something bigger than themselves. On these teams, everyone is an important decision-maker and is able to make a big difference.

Workers who want to make sure they have the growth opportunities that come with competency-based teams should make sure they are choosing to work at companies that use this sort of team. Snipes suggests that you ask these questions of a company you're considering: (Note to managers: Ask yourself how you'd answer these questions. You need good answers if you're going to attract the good catches in the coming years.)

1. What sort of talent development does the company commit to? There are no good teams without team training. A company committed to team leadership trains people to do it.

2. Is diversity important to a company? When it comes to teams, diverse input makes more effective outcomes. Diversity is important not only in terms of race and culture but in terms of the way people think.

3. Is there a reward system in place for teams? If a company rewards individual achievements, only then will individuals have less incentive to make teams work.

But let’s be real. Not everyone can stomach working on a team. Kerry Sulkowicz, Founder of the Boswell Group and advisor to CEOs on psychological aspects of management, says, “There are different types of personalities and it's not as simple as being part of a generation. There will always be some people who feel constrained being part of a group.” Sulkowicz says to think of it as a spectrum; almost everyone needs alone time, just 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.

7 replies
  1. Norcross
    Norcross says:

    I’ve become quite a fan of your blog recently, but I have to take exception to this post. While teamwork and collaboration is extremely helpful and appropriate in some cases, it’s overused and detrimental in others. I still remember the push in school to “work in groups” when the assignment had no reason for it whatsoever.

    In my experience, situations where creativity is key, the more minds the better. But, take tasks that are very analytical and numbers-oriented, and each additional voice increases the chance for error. And that’s not even mentioning the ‘groupthink’ mentality and ability for natural leaders to pass the buck (and responsibility) to others.

    All in all, teamwork needs not to be used in every situation.

  2. Jonha
    Jonha says:

    ” On a team it's not about what is your experience but what can you do today.” – Love it!

    Me and my (a href = “”>Dream Team are currently working on various tasks that need to be delivered as soonest as possible. They feel that some of the things we need to do are a little alien or new to them and I think this is exactly what we needed today.

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