Why Business Leaders are Demanding Teamwork

Cubicles, doors and walls are out. Teamwork is in, and employers are demanding it.

I understand the importance of being part of a team. Over the course of my career, I've experienced every aspect of joining, building, and leading teams. My career path included overseeing the construction of the Boston Convention Center, managing Economic Affairs for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as a Cabinet Secretary, working as an attorney for the Federal Trade Commission and later as a partner in a large Boston law firm, and my current role as president of Bentley University. After decades of seeing how valuable teamwork can be to success, I firmly believe that collaboration should be an integral aspect of an undergraduate education so that by the time students enter the workforce, working together is intuitive.

Harvard Business Review recently reported that time spent on group projects in the office has ballooned more than 50 percent over the past two decades, underscoring the need for often overlooked skills like collaboration. Instead of taking the backseat to so-called "hard skills" such as coding, teamwork is increasingly an important part of innovation and problem-solving. This transition has quickly revolutionized the workplace because it's a win-win proposition: employers report that groups innovate faster, and employees report that group projects lead to higher job satisfaction.

What is the recipe for the perfect team? It might not be what you think. Google recently shared its own research analyzing behaviors exhibited across teams to identify what made one team more successful than another. What they found was that the most successful groups within the company are those where the members felt "safe" with one another and displayed outward signs of respect and compassion.

Beginning in their first year, students at my university are taught that teamwork matters. It only intensifies from there with required group projects in core business courses through sophomore, junior and senior year. The culminating course is conducted entirely as a group project for an external company and, while final presentations to the company leadership are daunting, they are necessary training for the marketplace.

But the classroom isn't the only incubator for this -- leadership roles on sports teams, in clubs and campus organizations provide similar practice fields. The feedback we hear from students echoes the Google research: consistent communication and respect are the most important ingredients to a successful team. When cultural differences and varied work styles arise they work through them diplomatically. Some find they must step out of their comfort zone and be a leader. Trust is essential, along with passion, a shared drive to do well, and accountability.

For most of us, focusing solely on efficiency and individual work is not an option; we don't work in a silo. Teamwork allows us to be creative, share new approaches, expand our perspectives, and ultimately, forge real connections beyond the work itself. If business leaders tell us that they are looking for the next generation of savvy, collaborative leaders to propel their companies forward, then the college experience must provide the training ground.

Whether you're a college student or a working professional, take a moment to ask your teammates about their day, and when they answer, listen. Members of a truly effective, collaborative team can talk about the good news and the bad. Be supportive; even when the conversations with colleagues are tough. Team success is about more than the hours put in. It's about respecting the value that each person brings. When you can embrace your own work as part of a larger effort, you and your team will thrive.