Publication: Project Management Institute Community Post

Author: Jamie B. Gelbtuch and Conrado Morlan

While project managers wrestle on a daily basis with budgets, schedules and team issues, for the first time in many decades a new element of diversity is being addressed—the management of multigenerational teams

Although the multigenerational team has always existed, project performance is being affected by misunderstood perceptions about team members’ conduct. The challenge is to reconcile generational behaviors and values to create the required project synergy.

Project teams now include members from four different generations. Older generations typically includeMature (those born pre-World War II) and Baby Boomers (those who grew up in prosperity after World War II).Younger generations are characteristically known as Gen X (born from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s) andGen Y (graduates of the new millennium).

Generations, like cultures, are similar to icebergs. Each has characteristic actions and behaviors (“what” they are doing) that are visible, though they only account for the 10 percent iceberg tip we see above the waterline. The underlying generational beliefs and attitudes (“why” they are doing it) are largely invisible, similar to the 90 percent of the iceberg hidden under the water.

To gain insight into invisible drivers of behaviors, project managers can look at many of the same dimensions along which cultures differ. Generations show differing tendencies in use and perception of:

Hierarchy and Authority

Loyalty and respect are a common denominator for Matures and Gen Y. Matures are loyal to institutions and respect authority, while Gen Y is loyal to people and respects veterans. Baby Boomers champion teamwork and equity but think that rules can be challenged. Gen X, in contrast, dislikes micromanagement and believes that rules are dynamic and set by individuals rather than institutions.

 

Personal and Work Time

Baby Boomers and Matures consider work a high priority. However, Matures tend to appreciate flexible schedules while Baby Boomers are concerned with the number of hours devoted to projects, regardless of productivity. Gen X is typified by a desire to control and set their career path, personal ambitions and work time and place. Gen Y, on the other hand, is driven by a strong need for work-life balance and benefits that enable a gratifying career.

Personal and Work Time Across Generations

Preferred Communication

As Matures grew up in a pre-computing age, they mastered interpersonal skills and value in-person communications. Baby Boomers also believe face time is important, though they like to follow-up in writing. Gen X and Gen Y both place less value on face time. Gen X seeks open communication regardless of hierarchy and status, while Gen Y likes anytime, anywhere communication and seeks positive reinforcement from superiors.

Communication Preferences

 

Based on these tendencies, project managers can adjust the traditional ways in which they select and manage project teams by addressing team members on a generational basis. Suggestions for mastering a multigenerational mindset include:

  1. Understanding. Everyone is right—it’s all perception. Beliefs and values cannot be easily changed, if at all, so we must work with team members as they are, regardless of their age.
  2. Asking. A simple question such as “If you were in my shoes, how would you handle this situation?” will give tremendous insight into another generation’s motivations.
  3. Showing commitment. Keeping an open and ongoing dialogue shows a good faith effort to work withrather than against differences.

The ultimate success of a multigenerational team depends on how well a project manager is able to lead and inspire a team to not only recognize but also reconcile these differences. With a proactive approach, the project team will be able to look for similarities and leverage divergent world views. As a project manager or project team member, how are you currently facing this challenge?