Does Anybody Work Alone Anymore? Why Collaboration is Key.


In an informal setting, I was talking to a colleague old enough to be my dad. In fact, he has a daughter just a couple of years younger than I am. He’s very proud of her because she’s involved in so many extracurricular activities, events, projects, and groups in her community. But, what he said next surprised me: He wondered if being involved was good for her, or if she should have done more stuff alone, to learn how to  work individually better, as he had done when he was her age.

I couldn’t relate to his concern. Our generation — the Millenials or Gen Y — grew up “doing” collaboration. We played team sports, worked on group projects in class, joined a handful of school clubs, and perhaps most importantly, we grew up with the internet (Wikipedia is our Encyclopedia Britannica, and its all collaborative!) So to answer my older colleague’s question, why is it good for our generation to be immersed in collaboration early on?

We are entering a collaborative workplace. The ‘Boomers were taught independence and self-sufficiency because those were the skills demanded in the economy they were working in (think: working in a factory with assembly lines — imagination and collaboration need  not apply.) Today’s jobs often require employees to work in teams, often intentionally diverse, to create a product greater than the sum of its parts.

We genuinely value others’ experience. Our generation is, in part, characterized by being not only tolerant and accepting of diversity, but by actively seeking and valuing varying points of view. By interacting with others early on, we quickly recognize that we can benefit from inclusion, and appreciate the opportunity to learn from different cultures, ages, genders, and skill sets.

We are hands-on, and give back. Our experience in getting involved becomes a strong history of giving back, working together, and doing things outside of our own comfort zones. By working with different groups of people and different groups in the community, we develop an understanding of those who are less fortunate than us, and often an initiative to give back. Our generation (already!) has a strong track record of volunteerism, philanthropy, and social justice activism. Getting involved early plants the seeds of altruism that can manifest in a world of better business practices later.

Networking! This one seems obvious — but it is important to keep in mind. The people that we built-a-block with for Habitat for Humanity, the person we roomed with at summer camp, or the director of the soup kitchen we volunteered with could all be helpful connections down the road. Making connections early and often can be the building blocks for a career that reflects the collaborative and altruistic goals that are so wonderfully characteristic of our generation.


Do you agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments!

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