What Survivor: Millennials vs Gen X Teaches Us About Working in Teams

Image: What Survivor: Millennials vs Gen X Teaches Us About Working in Teams

How Different Generations Work Together

The latest season of Survivor premiered last week and while reality TV is certainly not discussed on this blog often, this season has a special twist that makes it relevant. The latest season features one team (called a “tribe” on the show) made up entirely of Gen Xers while the other tribe is made up of Millennials. It’s interesting that the ‘generational divide’ has finally caught up with reality TV.  There is obviously enough friction between the two generations for the producers to believe that pitting one cohort against another will make for entertaining viewing. They refer to the show as ‘the greatest social experiment’, so no doubt the episodes will be full of generational mud slinging.

Now, obviously, reality TV isn’t a perfectly accurate look at society, and being stranded on the beach is quite different than working in a team in an office, there are still some lessons we can gather from this show.

People are More Than Stereotypes

Survivor leans hard on the stereotypes of Gen Xers being hardworking individualists while Millennials are characterized as lazy and self-absorbed. While some of these traits may exist in each generation, it’s important to remember that each generation is more than the stereotypes that are associated with them… and which are magnified on reality TV.  Recognizing this will make it easier to work in a multigenerational team because it challenges us to digger deeper than typical stereotypes (usually negative) to uncover the strengths each generation can bring to a team.

On Survivor, one of the first members of the Gen X team to speak to the whole group immediately stated that he’s sick of how Millennials expect everyone to get a trophy. Having an attitude where you immediately judge other generations based on stereotypes might get you some screen time on a reality show, but it certainly won’t help you work together in your organization. Watch a clip of the show here that highlights many of the negative stereotypes about both Millennails and Gen Xers.

While different generations certainly have different skills, expectations and tendencies, it’s important that you don’t immediately dismiss a member of another generation without knowing them personally and attempting to communicate and work effectively together. If they do posses different skills, take advantage of this situation by finding ways to work together that allow both of you to showcase your unique talents.

It’s also important that you don’t fall into behaviours that reinforce the stereotypes of your own generation. On the TV show, several members of each tribe immediately started acting the way their cohort is “supposed to.” Now, this could be because of casting or because contestants were told to “play up” the stereotypes of their generation but in the work world, it can be detrimental to assume that you have to behave in a certain way, adopt a particular style, or possess a specific attitude just because you are a Baby Boomer, Gen Xer or Millennial.

Recognize Differences & Adapting to them

When working and communicating with different generations of colleagues, customers and leaders, it’s important to understand that based on their life experiences members of different cohorts will interpret situations and messages differently. This isn’t a negative thing. It’s simply an acknowledgement that our unique perspectives influence our expectations. Communicating in a way that all members of your team understand the intended message makes your message more effective and ensures that not just the content, but the tone behind the message is clear. This does not mean automatically assuming that a person will react a certain way because of their generation, but it does mean taking their unique situation into account when speaking, emailing, texting or presenting to them.

For example, a Millennial may consider an in-person meeting to discuss a situation unnecessary and might even believe that their time is being wasted by having to sit down and meet with a colleague in their office. A Baby Boomer, for example, will consider this time while spent. However, that same Baby Boomer may be offended by a business-related text message in response to a serious situation, while the Millennial will find this response not just acceptable, but preferable.

In order to alleviate these issues, it’s important to work to communicate your needs and your preferences effectively with everyone on your team. Failure to do so can cause resentment and clash points.  We suggest establishing team communication protocols around:

  • Preferred medium
  • Response time (immediate, within the business day, 24 hrs, the week?)
  • Frequency of communication
  • Levels of involvement – who will be engaged?

We’re Stronger When We Work Together

Both the Millennial tribe and the Gen X tribe had difficulties on the Survivor premiere. However, overcoming these difficulties was possible in most cases because the individuals on the tribes worked together. In fact, many Survivor challenges are specifically designed so that team members will need to co-operate with one another.

Research shows that those who work well together in teams aren’t just more productive, but they’re also happier and more engaged employees. This is because supporting one another, relying on others to contribute, and brainstorming together to solve problems helps build trust and bonding among employees.

In organizations where a collaborative environment exists, employees enjoy their roles more, get along with their managers much better, and are overall happier.

Even on Survivor, where the tribes are split up by generation, eventually different generations will have to work together. If you’re unfamiliar with the show, there is typically a “tribe merge” at some point where the two different teams come together and live together. This means that both generations have to be prepared to live with one another and be a productive team.

In the work world, as well as on reality TV, teamwork and recognizing how to best interact with those who are both similar to, and different from yourself, leads to success and keeps you from being voted out by your team.

Giselle Kovary

As president and co-founder of n-gen People Performance Inc., Giselle is dedicated to building strategies and programs that help clients target, motivate and engage employees in order to increase performance and productivity. She is a sought after resource to industry leaders, having worked with 18 of the top Fortune 500 companies across North America. Over 60,000 people globally have experienced an n-gen workshop or presentation. With close to 20 years of experience in learning and development, she has devoted more than 13 years to researching the impact that generational differences have on organizational performance.

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