Efficiency with effectiveness is considered a cardinal virtue of the workplace. But to achieve optimum results and productivity from my teams of Millennial colleagues, I’ve had to eschew “efficient” management styles that were preferred by older generations.
In consulting assignments for the Cambridge Group and Insight to Action, my teams conduct large, multi-faceted projects. A typical, efficient structure is to divide the project into discrete elements and assign these elements to individual team members. The project manager reviews each person’s work and combines all elements into one strategy, which is then reviewed with the partner (me) before being seen by the client. While it is reliant on the project manager and partner for the synthesis, this approach allows independent work and initiative on the part of each contributor and has proven relatively effective and fast over the years.
But with my team of Millennial professionals, this approach didn’t work. For these professionals, the ‘divide and conquer’ approach was not engaging, because it did not involve in-depth dialog.
With Millennials, Iterative Collaboration is the Way to Success
Millennials want to understand the big picture on a much more granular level than older professionals I’ve managed, and they yearn to make meaningful contributions to overall strategies. And, their contributions and focus may reflect different priorities than older generations.
To address this, at the beginning of a project, I take more time discussing goals in detail, leaving plenty of space for discussion. For instance, a seasoned consultant may find it obvious that competitive research is an integral part of a market strategy, but less experienced team members appreciate an overview of how that element fits in.
While I still believe in having individual assignments, big group review sessions are considered indispensible for my teams. No longer does the project manager evaluate individual assignments and compile a report. The greater context and experience are as important as the output to these professionals, and everyone wants to learn from their colleague’s work and incorporate it into their own. As Millennial professional Emily Disston writes in The Muse:
“As a Millennial, I like to generate ideas, flesh out part of my plan, and then get feedback from my manager. It's against my nature to do something methodically (and patiently!) and then present him with one final, polished product. Why? Because I desperately want to get feedback (OK, also praise), along the way for motivation — and so I can integrate that feedback into the final product.”
Prioritize the Work Journey Over the Output to Address Problems Creatively
Millennials will often rise to a challenge in delightfully unexpected ways. Once, one of my not for profit teams decided to have a holiday party. I couldn’t be highly involved with planning and organizing this event for over 100 guests, so I asked my Millennial colleague Alexandra to lead it. She arranged a committee, held multiple collaborative ideation meetings and threw one of the best holiday parties I’ve ever attended.
Of the dozen or so committee members, at pre-party time, eleven were focused on decorations and entertainment, while only one was focusing on of the food. This unconventional division of labor worked, though! Instead of food being the star of the party show, it was the photo booth, beer garden and piñata. In thinking about it more, I realized if the food isn’t ready when guests arrive, early arrivals will typically pitch in to get it ready; whereas it’s harder to decorate after the party starts. Since this was never intended to be a culinary journey, the experience, sense of community and collaboration is what mattered at this party.
Planning and executing this event wasn’t an efficient process, but it was the process that was engaging and motivating to the team, and it resulted in a terrific outcome.
Admittedly, the intense collaborative sessions preferred by Millennials can sometimes last for hours. They aren’t efficient. They are motivating, and can result in more creative solutions and approaches.
Mixing In-Person with Virtual Collaboration
Iterative collaboration takes a specific work environment to thrive. Remote working may be on the rise, and there are specific techniques to get engagement, as I’ve written about before.
Ideally, early on with teams, an in-person meeting is still helpful and this is as true for Millennials as for older generations. The value and desire for in-person collaboration can be seen in the rise of co-working spaces like Free Range Office in Chicago or market leader WeWork.
With Millennial teams, I find that in-person meetings are a must, along with spaces for small groups to collaborate.
Over the past decade or so, I’ve enjoyed the many management challenges as Millennials enter the workforce. These new professionals understand that efficiency isn’t the only priority, and they invest their entire selves into projects. In my experience, all professionals could learn from Millennials’ eagerness, enthusiastic attitudes and open-ness to approaching challenges in new ways.