It’s not a Millennial thing: Going from “Me Me Me” to “Us Us Us”

individualistic vs. collectivist

Do you go with your flock or are you out for yourself?

For a society (United States) that talks a whole lot about teamwork, we don’t always put our words into action. We talk a great game but if we look at how people actually operate in organizations, we might just shock ourselves. Individualistic characteristics shine through in so many ways when we look at how people behave at work.

Do you see these behaviors at work?

  • the person who would jump ship in a heart beat for more money even though the team really needs him/her to finish out an important project?
  • the staff member who responds to people’s questions or requests for help with “That’s not my job/responsibility.”
  • the boss who never puts in the work but takes all the credit?
  • the manager who keeps his/her employees from growing their careers because he/she doesn’t want to lose them?
  • the coworker who does the minimum – their share of the work – and that’s it? the coworker who doesn’t care how his/her work impacts others?
  • the one at work who would fight his/her heart out if something “unfair” happened to him/her but wouldn’t say a peep when coworkers are being treated wrong?

Do you see these behaviors being rewarded at work?

  • the person who gets time off approved even though the manager knows he/she is behind in work?
  • the staff member who gets a raise even though the team goals were not met?
  • the boss who gets all the praise and reward for a team project just because of his/her title?
  • the manager who gets away with holding his/her employees back from growing their careers?
  • the coworker who gets to go home early for the day because he/she finished his/her part of the project even though the team could really use his/her help?
  • the one at work who gets what he/she wants just because he/she complains the loudest about it?

If you experience these behaviors at work, you are witness to an individualistic culture – a culture where people simply want to know, “What’s in it for me?”

It still boggles my mind when I hear the stereotype of Millennials being the “Me Me Me” generation. It’s simply not true. Our entire society is a “Me Me Me” generation. Go ahead and Google it. You’ll find all the studies and research that shows that we are an individualistic country. However, if you listen to the way people talk about teams and the leadership philosophies that people speak about in organizations, you would think the opposite.

We always talk about the importance of teamwork, cohesiveness and servant leadership. We swear that we value these things above all else. Yet, our organizations still do not operate under these values as exemplified by some of the examples I listed above about what behaviors exist in our workplaces.

So, what needs to change? I don’t know it all but here are some shifts in behavior that could help organizations carry out and illustrate what they say they believe in – teamwork, cohesiveness and servant leadership:

  • Performance Management – This is two-fold, actually. First, we need to make sure that our leaders are coaching poor performers out of our organizations. If our best employees are infected by the poison, negativity or deadweight that exists in our organizations, it’s not realistic for us to expect them to work as a strong team. Once we do that, we can shift our performance management system to be team-based where everyone is measured on the success of the team. There may still be individual accomplishments that are worth mentioning but individual performance that is related to a team goal or team project should be reflective of such.
  • Attendance Expectations – When possible, we should be creating the expectation that everyone stays until the team has accomplished what it set out to accomplish in a given day. Again, this falls under the assumption that we’ve gotten rid of the poor performers. We help each other out when necessary and if there’s someone that does not do their part, that is an issue that needs to be dealt with immediately.
  • Recognition – While I don’t necessarily agree with rewards as the best way to recognize people, I know organizations love to use them. So if we’re going to reward people, there needs to be more team-oriented recognition and rewards. Yes, this includes monetary rewards. One of my favorite stories came from a bank in Florida. One year, the CEO was given a large bonus for exceeding a very important company goal. He took his entire bonus, split it and gave it to every employee because he knew that it took the entire team to accomplish their goal.
  • Leadership – We won’t get into a debate about what’s better – vertical or horizontal leadership structures. No matter which one we have, we need to develop team-oriented leaders. Leaders must be part of the team rather than above it. They need to do their part in supporting the team to work together, diving into the trenches with the team when necessary and providing the appropriate resources to get the job done. We need to start being creative about how to eliminate some of the administrative work and paperwork that leaders are required to do so that they can focus on developing the best teams.
  • Culture – our organizations are nothing without culture. If our culture does not support teamwork, even if our mission and values say we do, we’re in trouble. Creating a strong culture around teamwork and people requires, among many other things: clear and consistent communication, strong leadership at all levels, diminished politics, empowerment to make decisions and take some risks for all employees/teams and accountability by everyone and for everyone.

We already see the belief system in our society that team-orientation is better than being an individualistic organization. We just need start making the shift from a belief system to an action-oriented system. Relationships and networks are so important to success. If we can create these within our organizations, we’ll find that relationships and networks turn into more successful teams, which leads to more successful individuals. Our strength as individuals will only grow if we also have the strength of a team.


8 thoughts on “It’s not a Millennial thing: Going from “Me Me Me” to “Us Us Us”

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