Leading a Multigenerational Project Team

Image: Leading a Multigenerational Project Team

Leading a Multigenerational Project Team

Project managers that can create strong, collaborative work environments will achieve more significant project results. Today’s project managers play a role beyond just meeting project deliverables. When leading a project team, your role is also to get, keep and grow your team members. To do so, it is critical to understand your employee groups: Who they are, how they differ from one another and what they expect from you as a project manager.

Project managers need to create an engaged relationship with all team members to achieve a win-win outcome for both the team members and the project stakeholders.

Today’s workplace is comprised of four generational cohorts: Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Gen Ys. Each generational cohort possesses unique values, characteristics, and skills based on their unique experiences of life-defining events. Each generational cohort’s identity translates into different behaviours in the workplace, including differing work styles. This can make managing a multigenerational project team a real challenge.

To learn how to effectively lead a multigenerational team, it’s important to understand the values and expectations of each generation.

What Each Generation Values

Most traditionalists (those born between 1922 and 1945) value loyalty, respect for authority, dedication, sacrifice, conformity, honour, privacy, stability and fiscal conservatism. They are also a generation that is detail-oriented, hardworking, dedicated, risk-adverse and long-term focused. Their goal is leave a lasting legacy at work and for their families.

Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) value optimism, involvement in decision making, personal growth and gratification, being youthful and are team-orientated and career-focused. This generation are team players who are relationship-focused, eager to add value, politically-savvy in the workplace and competitive. Their goal is to put their stamp on things.

Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1980) value independence, self-reliance, skepticism, informality and a work-life balance. They are techno-literate, flexible and creative, entrepreneurial, results-driven and quite individualistic. Their goal is to maintain independence in all areas of their lives.

Gen Ys (born between 1981 and 2000) value, diversity, civic duty, optimism and desire immediate access to information and services. They are highly techno-savvy, confident, innovative, creative,expressive and tolerant of differences as well as eager to develop new skills. Their goal is to find work and create a life that has meaning.

Generational Work Styles, Potential Conflicts & Solutions

With four generations in the workplace, as a project manager you are faced with four different – and often conflicting – approaches to work. , It is important to recognize that members of each generation bring their “generational baggage” with them into the workplace. These differing perspectives can impact the ability for team members to work well with each other.

For example, when a Traditionalist’s respect for authority and directive management style meets a Gen Xer’s relaxed attitude toward authority and informal work style, conflicts can erupt. When generational approaches to work clash, the results are increased turnover, reduced team engagement and diminished project results.

As a project manager, it is important to for you to first understand your own generational identity and how your work style may differ from those you lead.

Historically, we didn’t have as much access to technology as we do today, which meants tasks had to be completed in a strict linear order. It was impossible to complete step three without completing steps one and two. Gen Xers and, in particular, Gen Ys have not been entirely exposed to a linear world. Technology has allowed the merging of multiple mediums and the ability to multitask easily. Students are often found instant messaging 20 friends, while texting three more, while downloading music, checking their Facebook page and Tweeting while doing homework. They bring this fluid work style into the workplace. Therefore, they expect that they will be assigned multiple tasks, preferably with little repetition involved.

For many managers it is important that all team members be in the office every day working at their desks in order to meet project deliverables. This is a remnant of an ‘if I don’t see you, you are not working’ management style. For many younger employees, sitting at their desk does not necessarily mean working and working doesn’t have to take place at the office. They know that they can get as much done with their laptop and iPhone while sitting at their local café as they could sitting in front of the office PC. As a project manager, keep in mind this preferred work style and consider if there are any opportunities to be more flexible with work schedules.

Understanding how each generation works can make leading a multigenerational team easier.

Successfully Leading a Multigenerational Team

Leading a successful project team requires that you develop strategies that maximize the strengths of each generation while managing the differences, in order to deliver better project results. This can include coming up with new ways to determine the types of tasks which different team members will take on.

For example, a project manager once told me that she actively encourages her team members to self-select f the tasks they wish to complete on a project. What amazed her is that the choices they made often aligned to generational preferences. For example, her more mature and experienced employees selected tasks that had longer timelines with greater profile status, while the younger team members wanted to work on tasks where there would achieve immediate results.

Regardless of age, all employees seek a positive and collaborative relationship with their managers. However, the grace period that Gen X or Gen Y employees will give you to get the relationship right is much shorter than that of Baby Boomers or Traditionalists. The challenge remains that many managers exhibit the same management style that they experienced from their leaders. This is often a top-down, command and control approach. In most cases, this approach doesn’t create the level of collaboration that is necessary for today’s business success. Engaging all team members through open dialogue, involving them in decision making and acknowledge generational differences are all steps towards creating a productive high-performing team.

Giselle Kovary

As co-founder and managing partner at n-gen, Giselle is passionate about creating solutions that help clients engage, motivate and lead a multigenerational workforce. Her deep expertise and dynamic facilitation style in the areas of leadership, Gen Y, team building, sales & customer service and HR make her a sought-after resource for Fortune 500 companies across North America.

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