New research on workplace collaboration shows interpersonal differences remain an issue.
- While 81% of the 1,000 workers polled said they frequently work as part of a team, 46% said doing so is hard because of conflicting work styles.
- 35% of respondents said alignment was the "biggest challenge to successful business execution."
- Employees who work for organizations with good cross-functional alignment were 180% more likely to agree that teamwork inspires them to do better work.
Teamwork may make the dream work in today's workplace, but collaboration can amplify the differences between co-workers. In a newly released survey by Reflektive, researchers found that communication and generational differences are major pain points for American workers.
Researchers polled more than 1,000 U.S. employees to better understand how team projects affect a workplace. While 81% of respondents said they regularly work as part of a team, 46% said they found the prospect of collaborating with their colleagues difficult because of differing work styles.
"Business success today hinges on employees' ability to work together in teams," said Reflektive CEO Greg Brown, "and teams work best when their members and efforts are aligned. But without the proper tools, open communication and goal visibility, it's hard for teams to get on and stay on the same page, track business progress, and achieve optimal business outcomes."
While most of the survey's respondents said differing work styles usually hamper team cohesion, a poorly aligned workforce can often cause problems as well.
This apparent lack of alignment not only affects departmental teams, but also cross-functional and project-based teams, which is why 69% of the polled workers said they felt a more cohesive companywide goal alignment is key to success. More than 35% of respondents, however, said alignment was "the biggest challenge to successful business execution."
While alignment was among the biggest issues, nearly 36% said they didn't keep track of their own team's goals, and more than half (53%) said they have partial or zero visibility into other teams' goals.
When companies had better alignment among teams, researchers found higher engagement levels and more positive outlooks on teamwork. Productivity also gets a boost, as employees who work for companies with strong cross-functional alignment were 180% more likely to say that teamwork inspires better work and 101% more likely to prefer working on a team, and 98% said they were more likely to recommend their company as a good place to work. Good alignment also made employees 56% more likely to feel excited about a team project.
The generational divide
With four generations currently in the workforce (boomers, Gen X, millennials and Gen Z), there are sure to be some areas where employees don't agree. Through the survey, researchers found that Gen Xers were considered the easiest group to work with, while employees in the millennials and Gen Z camps were perceived as the most challenging. [Read related article: Workplace Conflicts? 4 Tips to Improve Communication]
More than half of respondents (56%) said they preferred to work with diverse teams. Researchers found that workers between 18 and 24 years old were 21% less likely to prefer a diverse team at work and were 106% more likely to "strongly disagree that being part of a team inspires them to do their best." Furthermore, employees in that same age group were 232% more likely to prefer all-male teams, while 146% were more likely to prefer all-female teams.
When it comes to creating a strong collaborative environment, researchers also learned that smaller groups tended to perform better and engendered more excitement about a project. According to the survey, 90% said groups of six or more people "make it difficult to contribute in a meaningful way."
Older workers, however, were 94% more likely than any other age group to say that they "don't have the needed tools to work with other teams effectively." Similarly, 40% of C-suite leaders said they felt they could do better work if they had new technology to manage the work.
Avoiding communication breakdowns
Feedback is important to any workforce, and researchers found communication is paramount to create an effective teamwork environment. Good communication can spur employee improvement, increase retention and foster better performance overall.
According to the survey, 74% said the best-performing teams often give constructive feedback. That constructive feedback then helps teams execute more effectively, 72% of respondents said.
Researchers also found that companies that have better communication, feedback and goal-setting processes have higher employee retention, being 2.4 times more likely to have workers stay for at least two years.
"This research illustrates that having the proper tools in place allows for better alignment, improved goal-setting, greater employee engagement, healthier working relationships, higher worker retention and improved business results," Brown said.