Millennials and a data driven culture: asking better questions is a team sport

‘Any complex task is best approached by flattening hierarchies. It gets everybody feeling like they're in the inner circle, so that they develop a sense of ownership’
General Stanley McChrystal, Author, Team of Teams

 There are exciting things happening in the workplace. As we move towards empowering teams closest to our customers, foster collaboration across organisational silos, the next question to consider is how do we connect these changes and challenges to Big Data?

Millennials are a critical population to consider here, and even a source of competitive advantage with Big Data. If we all have the data, technology, and talent available to us, it’s going to be the quality of questions we ask that will drive business value.

Millennials can thrive in a data-driven culture, because they love collaboration. This isn’t about coffee and beanbag chairs, this is about the way that we interact with each other in organisations.

Millennials routinely rank corporate culture as a major factor in how well they feel engaged. They want to work across teams and departments, and don’t respect corporate planning cycles or business unit silos.

Collaboration is at the heart of an effective data culture
Organisations that cultivate and encourage collaboration and cross-functional development opportunities, not only to get the most out of the future workforce, but start to build an effective data culture.

Contrary to the belief that millennials are digitally isolated, the research I have found shows that the majority of respondents said that ‘good team collaboration’ was the most valuable attribute in their ideal workplace. The data shows that more than half of these individuals have jobs that require frequent work in teams, and 51% preferred to have in-person meetings when collaborating with others on projects.

Millennial employees are found to be more engaged than non-millennials when their leaders communicate frequently and consistently, and provide good feedback. It’s all about feedback, making sure that they’re on track, making sure that everyone is on the same page, and staging an interactive discussion and debate over issuing orders. Millennials want to feel that they are contributing to the development of the organisation by adding to its understanding, innovation, and important discussions.

Therefore, it’s critically important for organisations to give teams the right tools to challenge assumptions, groupthink, and bias - all of which are the enemy of building data driven teams.

Millennials place high importance on the purpose of the organisation that they work for. This presents an exciting opportunity for organisations and their new workforce, as they start on a path of data discovery using purpose as a handrail.

Who do we serve? How do we drive value for them? What do we need to know?

Even with the best technology and data talent available, identifying gaps in understanding your purpose is crucial for success.

Cognitive diversity in teams is key
For the data analysts, it’s about understanding the mission and all the analysis that has led up to it. For the front-line teams, it’s about getting to the most meaningful insights to inform mission-critical decision-making. Both teams must ask questions in this iterative discussion to gather as much context as possible. When trust is built and the teams come together with a common goal, it is hard to tell the difference between the two parties.

Getting ‘data meetings’ right:
• Broaden team understanding of future clients, customers, market needs, and pains
• Identify bias, groupthink, and flawed assumptions
• Avoid the tendency to jump to the wrong conclusion because of the loudest voice
• Connect relevant data to the most important business challenges and priorities

Success in a data meeting comes down to three attributes:
• Diversity of the team – invite data scientists and business leaders from across the organisation. Diversity of thought is your competitive advantage here
• Application of the right tools – Keep it simple. Data science isn’t scary, but let the experts handle the complicated stuff
• Support from leadership – Leaders need to stage the right discussion and come prepared to listen and be challenged

As companies turn into the exciting era of Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, and Advanced Analytics, the millennial workforce is a critical enabler to unlocking value.

It’s all about asking the right questions!


Graham Hogg is the CEO and Founder of Connectworxs, a management consultancy that exists to break data silos and help teams ask better questions.