Dear Generational Guru: The Frustrated Team Manager

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Dear Generational Guru: The Frustrated Team Manager

Start here for an introduction to my advice column, Dear Generational Guru.

Dear Gen Guru 2

Dear Generational Guru,
My employees range from 25 to 55 years old, so I struggle putting together the most effective teams. I’ve had teams who barely work together, teams who function like social clubs, and teams with major drama. Is it better to just group teams by generation, so they work together with people of the same age?
Frustrated Team Manager


Dear Frustrated Team Manager,

While grouping teams by age seems like an easy solution, it’s actually much better to leverage the strengths of each generation in a team. Why? One word: diversity.

Often diversity is only associated with ethnicity and gender, yet it is so much more. Diversity also means learning style, education, religion, and yes—even generation.

Studies show that diverse teams perform better:

  • Lu Hong and Scott E. Page showed groups of diverse problem solvers outperform groups of high-ability problem
  • McKinsey quarterly reported that between 2008 and 2010, companies with more diverse teams were top financial performers and that companies with diverse executive boards enjoy significantly higher earnings and returns on equity.

There is a greater range of experiences to enrich the collective knowledge of diverse teams. This is also true with varied generations—each generation brings their unique perspectives to the table. Let’s take a quick look at beneficial team traits for each generation:

Baby Boomers: Born between 1946-1964

  1. Bring teams together

With the political assassinations and Vietnam War happening during their formative years, Boomers learned they must band together so their voices would be heard. Consequently, they are great collaborators and comfortable bringing teams together.

  1. Idealistic outcomes

The man landing on the moon showed Boomers that anything was possible and the sky was literally the limit. Add in a little “free love” and you’ve got an anything-is-possible attitude.

Generation X: Born between 1965-1980

  1. Devil’s advocates

With three recessions, Watergate, the Challenger explosion and skyrocketing divorce rates all happening during their formative years, Gen X learned not to trust the government, their families or the corporate world. This makes them excellent devil’s advocates.

  1. Pragmatic and focused

To navigate the events of their formative years, Gen X developed the ability to look at things at face value. This makes them pragmatic and focused when it’s time to make a decision. Their process often looks like: Problem-Brief Discussion-Decision-Done.

Generation Y (Millennials): Born between 1981-2001

  1. Global perspective

Growing up with the Internet means that Gen Y had access to global perspectives from day one. With social media providing the framework for people to connect worldwide, and the rapid sharing of news and media, Gen Y has been entrenched in the type information needed to bring a more global view to the table.

  1. Using technology to solve problems

It’s been said that Gen Y was born with a mouse in their hand. While that’s not true (we hope), it is true they’ve had technology at their fingertips since childhood. This comfort, confidence and familiarity means they apply technology solutions to problems.

Three Tips to Leverage Generationally Diverse TeamsDiversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.

The reality is, a manager can’t pick her team. She gets what she gets. But she still needs to make it diverse and inclusive. As Vernã Myers, Esq. says, “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” Frustrated Team Manager, you need to make sure everyone on your team, regardless of generation, gets asked to dance.

To create a team that leverages generational strengths, you need to listen to everyone on the team. Each person will have diverse perspectives on the work, so ask questions and get input from all, not just a few. Here are three tips to do that:

  1. Truly listen

Truly listening to someone is a great way to build relationships and develop trust. Plus, how are you going to understand and benefit from your employee’s unique perspective if you don’t listen to it? Pay attention to what’s said, what’s not said, words, tone of voice, and body language.

  1. Ask questions

When asking questions, keep them short and open-ended. Open questions start with “what” or “how.” A few examples of short, open questions are: “What’s the underlying issue?”, “What’s the impact of that?” and “How can you move forward?”

  1. Seek input from all

When seeking ideas from your employees, especially ones you disagree with, keep it simple. Say things like, “Tell me more,” or “That’s interesting, how did you develop that idea?”

These three tips will cultivate openness and inclusiveness in team dynamics, create an environment open to opposing views, and help everyone recognize the value of exploring a problem from various angles. With this perspective, a multi-generational team will lead to more innovative work, and less frustration for you!


Generational Guru

Have a question for the Gen Guru? Leave a comment below, send an email, or ask your question on Twitter.

*The three generations in the workplace are Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964), Generation X (born 1965-1980) and Generation Y, also known as Millennials (born 1981-2001)

Does your team need help with intergenerational management and communication? I can help. Check out my keynote and workshop, Engage Every Age.

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