We live in an interesting time. Kids are growing up, not with a silver spoon, but rather a titanium iPhone. The older generation, mine, question what impact this will have on the younger generation’s ability to communicate using their mouth and ears and not their eyes and thumbs. My generation is the generation of playing outside, no seat belts, and definitely no helmets. We were told to go outside and play and not allowed back until dinner. Things were harder. We did not have to walk to school uphill both ways like our parents, but if we wanted to hear music, you had to have a sound system with a record player, 8-track and cassette tape player, and if you were fortunate enough, a CD Player. When the Sony Walkman came out minds were blown because you could take music with you as long as you had a big enough bag to carry the music you wanted and spare batteries. We were the TV remotes. Dads around the world were asking their kids to get up and change the channel. Luckily we only had 13 channels back then!
Because we were banished from our homes to play outside, we had to figure out how to get along with each other. If you wanted to play baseball you needed to figure out how to get 18 people to play. There were leaders, followers, naysayers, doers, and duds. We built stuff. My friends and I even plowed a field, and with shovels and rakes made a BMX race track. By being sent outside, we learned about teamwork.
Since our kids are growing up inside the house, there have been nonprofit programs set up to get kids outside to play 60 minutes a day. In contrast – if it was not for Space Invaders and Atari, I would not have sit for 60 minutes a day. Kids playing outside less concerns me. In addition to the health reasons, they are not learning how to deal in multiple team environments.
You may disagree because kids seem to be more involved in organized sports and clubs at school for just about anything. Shouldn’t that be helping? It does some, but there is still an ‘anti-team’ pattern in the US. Let me explain, on my son’s 10-year old soccer team, there was a kid that was better than the others. Other than this kid, the rest of the team was average. Did the better player stay in the league and on his initial team? No. He needed to get noticed, so he switched to another team where high schools and youth Olympic development scouts could start looking at him. This attitude in youth sports creates more of an attitude of self than teaming. There is not time dedicated to helping the team improve. Time is dedicated to promote one’s self.
I do worry about our kids and I want to help them become good team mates in the future. At the same time, they have some time before they enter the workforce. My generation, us, we get this teaming thing right? Well, not so much. What happened to us? Where is that team that built a race track with basic tools like shovels? That band of kids did not have a lot of knowledge of building a race track. We were not engineers. We had a common goal and figured it out. Unfortunately, we’ve become more like our kids today than we think. Maybe we are the reason our kids are the way they are. We too have been inundated with technology and now look for it to solve all our problems. I saw this recently while waiting to board a plane, there were 112 people in the gate area (yes, I counted). Only 15 of those 112 were not using their phone or tablet. That’s 13%. Three of those were babies and three adults were eating. In the entire group, 4 people were in conversations. This scares me.
Teams at work are not much different. Good, positive conversations are not happening enough. Team work is hard, team work takes effort and dedication. It’s called team building for a reason. For many it is not easy, even a little scary. Although many know it’s important, the focus is not there. Commonly, we are put on teams and told to go…make it happen.
In a recent CIO.com article, “Top soft and technical skills that will get you hired”, team work was rated as the number one skill employers are seeking. The author went on to say, “Candidates who can work well with others and demonstrate effective teamwork will always have a career edge. Those who can go beyond working in their area of expertise, and who demonstrate big picture thinking, take leadership roles when necessary and can work with colleagues for the greater good of the company are a great asset to any organization.”
This does not just apply to finding a new job. Organizations should also be focusing in building effective teams with those already on their staff. Successful teams focus on rewarding behaviors that improve teamwork. In their book Switch, the authors Chip and Dan Heath share an organizational change study that was described in the book The Critical Path to Corporate Renewal. In this study, it was shown that the most successful teams set behavior goals. An example included project teams meeting once a week and each team would include at least one representative of every functional area to review their progress, issues and what the following week held.
The good news is that the ever more popular agile environment is set up for collaboration and teaming, but there’s a still a lot of work to be done. Teams still focus more on the agile processes and not the conversations. There is a greater focus on tools that can help with collaboration and not enough on how teams can use healthy conflict to make good decisions.
Look to improve how you talk to your teammates. Work together to gain a better understanding each team member’s strength. Establish an environment that embraces and utilizes these strengths. No process or technology tool can replace a good team. It can enhance it, but never replace. Regardless of the technology available, my advice is to take a step back into your childhood and work as a team to achieve success by working toward a common goal.
All the best,