As the saying goes, teamwork makes the dream work, and if there was ever a generation to fully embody this mantra, it’s Gen Z.
According to a recent SalesScreen survey, Gen Z was the most likely demographic to say it responded to team goal setting, shared goals, and positive chatter, with 64% saying collaborative work makes them feel like part of a team.
Meanwhile, 49% of Boomers and Millennials and 58% of Gen Xers said they prefer collaborative work, but only 26% of Boomers, 28% of Gen Xers, and 37% of Millennials said setting group objectives makes them feel like part of a team.
According to MaryLeigh Bliss, chief content officer at YPulse, teamwork comes more naturally to younger workers because they grew up with schools and sports teams that are more focused on collective efforts than previous generations.
“It’s such a stark contrast to how Gen X and Boomers conducted themselves and their preferences, which was a much more solitary, individualistic mentality, both in the workplace and outside of it,” Bliss said. “Then Millennials and Gen Z came along, and they were more collaborative; they preferred working in teams, preferred to have a work bestie.”
But just because older workers prefer going it alone doesn’t mean it’s too late to harness the team spirit of their younger colleagues.
Redefining workplace success
Collaborative teams don’t just make for stronger, healthier workplaces — they also help increase performance. A 2022 Harvard Business Review study found that improved collaboration within a consulting firm increased annual revenue by 34%, while increased teamwork among specialists at a global bank increased financial performance by 17%.
Collaborative teams are also better at responding to client needs. According to an analysis of a marketing analytics firm conducted by the Harvard Business Review, sales reps who were focused on signing their own deals neglected or missed client requests, ultimately hurting the entire team.
According to Bliss, the key comes down to reconsidering what success means in the workplace and channeling younger workers who are identifying collective wins that transcend being the top dog.
“For Gen X and Boomers, success was literally being the top earner or reaching the top of your industry, it was far more about that hierarchy and climbing a ladder,” she said. “Millennials and Gen Z are more focused on finding that balance of things that make you satisfied and happy, not necessarily that make you the top of the pyramid.”
As a result, Bliss said younger generations are more open to working together and sharing the load — something that older colleagues can learn from Gen Z and Millennial workers who believe “ the journey of the work is as important as the end goal.”
“[Younger workers] need to enjoy the day-to-day and not sacrifice their daily happiness for some ultimate end goal that's about their individual success,” Bliss said.
While younger demographics are often maligned for their obsessive technology use, Bliss said it has actually helped them feel more at ease with collaboration and communication across all aspects of their lives.
“The technology that is so often blamed for making them lonelier or isolated has also made them really used to having their friends in their pocket, bouncing ideas and talking,” Bliss said. “They’re always in a group, getting and sharing opinions, and having that smartphone in their pocket at such young ages has certainly contributed to their collaborative mentality.”
She added that as technology proved increasingly vital during the pandemic, Gen Z and Millennial workers adapted more easily and better understood the need for collaboration while working together remotely. Now that technology and those new communication skills are helping to keep hybrid workers together and enable real-time collaboration for in-person teams.
“The pandemic really necessitated a greater effort being made in working with team members in new ways,” she said. “You have to put more effort into it if you’re going to be communicating and working as a team digitally than if your desks are next to each other.
Bliss said finding ways to integrate technology in the workplace through gamification or interactive social media can help all generations feel more connected, creating a virtuous circle of teamwork, collaboration, and productivity. It can also ease older workers into using such tools and seeing their benefits.
“Younger generations grew up having far more opportunities to work digitally as a team with their peers, and that’s just an expectation for them,” Bliss said.
Ultimately, fostering collaboration in intergenerational workplaces may take some adjustment, but Bliss said it all comes down to prioritizing teamwork and being patient.
To start, employers can begin by creating “judgment-free zones” where anybody can share ideas and bounce ideas off each other, Bliss said. By first generating trust, teams can continue to expand their collaborative efforts.
“You can’t really have teamwork if someone doesn’t feel like part of a team,” she said. “Everyone needs to feel included and like their thoughts are valued, truly considered, and that there are steps taken to make their ideas come to life.”
To learn more, download the full survey, Mind the Motivation Gap.