Managing a Cross Generational Team
Best practices and Things to Avoid
Being in control of a team or an organization is not an easy task. You have to be on top of everything – from the smallest tasks to the stakeholder wishes. And as various generations join the mix, another layer of difficulty appears. Thus managing a cross generational team can become a challenge. Especially, if you are not ready to be lenient and accommodate everyone involved.
As younger people have started joining the workforce and the retirement age is pushed farther and farther back, cases of several generations working together are more apparent. Nowadays, we can see 2, 3 or even 4 generations working on the same project and handling their differences is a topic all managers should be aware of.
While the time frames for the youngest generations are still being discussed, it is mostly agreed that 4 generations are active in the workforce at the moment. Meaning Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z can all be part of your next project. In most cases you will not have to manage all of these generations at once, it is still important to understand which ones are at your disposal and how you should act to keep them happy and motivated.
A great manager is the one that knows his or hers employees and caters to their strengths to get the best results.
Before discussing what each generation is like, let’s first define what sort of a generation we are talking about. Traditionally, generations are defined by the time it takes for children to grow up, become adults and start having children of their own. In the case of cross generational team this definition should be a little different.
When talking about the workplace, we mean social generations. This term defines groups of people that experienced the same significant events within a given period of time. Usually social generations are about people that grew up being shaped by the same events and thus share similarities in their behavior and priorities in life.
Understanding this is not only important, but very helpful to any manager. As it gives the ability to use the right tools for communication, motivation and rewards. And in turn allows you to get the best results out of your cross generational team.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? Here is more on the four generations found in the workforce today.
Born between 1946 and 1964, Boomers are the oldest generation in the workforce today. They are known for strong work ethic, being goal oriented and working hard on everything they set out to do.
In general, boomers are all about stability and structure. They are loyal employees that will avoid job-hoping. Ideal workplace for them is structured and organized with formal communication. Most of the interactions are done face to face and the achievements are celebrated publicly.
The biggest strength of boomers is their knowledge. It is a generation that has been in the workplace for quite some time and thus most are experts in their respective fields. They will gladly share this information if the circumstances allow it.
Nearing retirement, Boomers will appreciate reduced schedules and flexible hours. Allowing them to be part of the workforce, but not overextended in their efforts.
Next up is the Generation X, a group of people generally viewed as hardworking, self-reliant and fiscally responsible.
Having grown up during the invention of personal computers, this generation is much more comfortable with technology than Boomers and will use more fluently. However, face to face communication is still greatly appreciated and they will often opt for walking over to a colleagues’ desk instead of sending an e-mail.
As employees, they are loyal to their profession and not the company. Thus are likely to switch around 7 jobs during their career. An ideal work environment leaves Gen X employees the flexibility to oversee their own workload management and creates opportunities to share their expertise with colleagues.
This generation will do best in situations where there is need to adapt and define a new way of operations.
Gen X likes to have flexibility in the work hours to account for family life. They also appreciate monetary benefits and perks that a company can provide to its employees.
Climbing up to be the largest generation in the workforce, Millennials or Generation Y grew up with internet and witnessed the rise of smartphones. Most of them also had to deal with a recession right at the beginning of their careers, shaping the way they look at and feel about the job market.
Contrary to previous two generations, Millennials can be called internet natives. And the way they interact, look for jobs and even understand the world is quite different. In fact it is the first generation that puts great importance on how their job or their company affects people’s lives, makes the industry better and even improves the world.
As employees they prefer digital communication for its ease and efficiency. Millennials have strong personal goals and are looking for positions that cater to and help achieve them. It is important that their work is judged not by the hours in office, but by the end quality.
Millennials are great at working independently and setting the ethical goals for the company.
To keep a Millennial happy aid them in achieving personal goals and provide them with work and life balance by creating possibilities for working remotely.
The newest addition to the workforce is the Generation Z. Set between 1996 and 2012, it is a generation born and raised with technology.
Just entering the workforce today, this group is looking for management that sets direction and creates mentoring opportunities. Generation Z are mostly looking for a somewhat stable job, that they plan to stay in for 2-4 years. Aside from the personal and professional growth, they put great importance on using the cutting edge technology at work. The also value a company with digital presence.
Generation Z is great at setting ambitious personal goals for themselves and multitasking like using up 5 screens at once.
In order to motivate this social group, you will need to focus on their professional growth, flexible working hours and monetary incentives. They are eager to start and dominate their careers as well as to become financially independent.
Working With Various Generations
Now you know what the four generations are like, but what happens once a boomer and a millennial have to work on the same project? What techniques can you as a manager use to diffuse the differences? Here is my take.
First of all, focus on similarities instead of differences
You might be tempted to categorize the employees based on their social generations and age, however no two people are truly alike. I am sure, reading the descriptions you found something in each generations’ description that sounded just like you. And I am sure, your employees feel this way too.
Therefore it is best to focus on what unites your project team. The same goal, similar work ethic, task autonomy or anything else. Find out what makes your team into one and start from there instead of looking for differences right away.
Get to know everyone more personally
Take proactive steps to get to know your team. Organize during or after-work events, team lunches, or even surveys to gather valuable information on what your team is like. You will learn on how they like to work, what is most important to them in life and what drives them to come into the office every morning.
This information will be great when setting up incentives and communicating about the work ahead. Such events will help not only manager-team communication but team-team communication. By spending time together outside of the work environment, your employees will be able to get to know each other and thus communicate easier when it comes to working.
Take advantage of the strengths
Look at the advantages of having people from different social generations on your team. It creates a variety of skills and abilities to work with and thus you can achieve the best results. Teammates from the older social generations usually have great expertise in the field, while the younger generations are technology savvy. Pair them together when you need both (for example a product presentation) and you will get the most informative and technically advanced result.
When working with a cross-generational team, you should also consider setting up mentorship programs. It will be a great place for Boomers and Gen X to share and relay their expertise. While Millennials and Gen Z will greatly appreciate the ability to learn and grow professionally. By having multiple social generations on the team, you eliminate the need for outside coaching.
Accommodate to personal needs
Lastly, make sure to acknowledge and cater to the personal needs of your employees. If you know someone gets greater results when working remotely, set up a system for them to meet the team periodically and let them work from home. If an employee is looking for better work/life balance, allow flexible work hours. And if it is important for an employee to get recognized for their accomplishments, make sure you celebrate publically.
While some of the practices are not the way you as a manager like to work, it is important to remember your job is to make the team perform. Thus you should focus on their needs and preferences instead of your own.
Things to Look Out For
As there are things to strive for when managing a cross generational team, there are also things to avoid. These are simple and small things that can slip your mind, but will leave a big dent in morale. And thus should be avoided when possible.
Making everyone follow your rules
Everyone is part of one of the social generations, even the manager. Thus it may be very tempting for the manager to create a working environment that caters to their needs exactly. And you may say – “Why not? My team – my rules”. To which I would reply – “Your team – Your team’s rules”.
It is your duty as the leader to make sure the team has the best conditions to work and perform. Thus ensuring your preferred way of working aligns with theirs is very important.
Another common misstep when dealing with cross generational teams is generalizing. With various media articles (this one as well) giving information on what each generation is like, it becomes quite easy to start grouping everyone according to stereotypes.
Before you know it, you will start saying things like – “All Millennials are …” or “You shouldn’t talk to Boomers about…” And this will not only offend certain people on your team, but also create issues between your employees. Where they start seeing certain people as a representation of a particular group instead of who they really are.
Stemming from this, it is also very important for the manager not to show preference for any specific social generation. While we all understand that your own social generation is closest to you, other generations on your team have to be heard as well. Other generations will definitely perform worse if they feel your preferences and are forced to work in a way that is not suitable to them.
Dismissing Suggestions and Requests
Lastly, make sure you listen and take in what your teammates ave to say. While some things may seem like nonsense to you, it can make a huge difference for someone on the team. You may be asked for somethings simple like a personal meeting once a month or public celebration for achievements. Whatever it is, if your team member has asked, it is important to them.
While you do not have to fulfill every request, make sure to listen and react to each of them.
Managing a cross generational team may seem daunting at first. You have an added level of stress added to what already is a difficult job. But getting to know your employees and their goals helps set up an environment that allows for everyone to thrive.
Take advantage of the more experienced team members in asking them to share their knowledge. Help younger employees reach their goals and use their tech-savvy approach to improve processes. By playing to strengths and similarities you will be able to not only manage but also enjoy having a cross-generational team.
Passionate content marketer looking to bring better solutions to the project management space.
2020 - Present Marketing specialist at Teamhood.
2014 - 2020 Marketing manager for Eylean.