Building Teamwork Across Generations

In today’s workplace, teamwork and collaboration are necessary for a business to thrive.  A team is a group of people united towards a shared goal.  The Great Recession, longer life spans, a low savings rate and a confluence of other factors have resulted in many work teams with people from the ages of 18 to 70+.  This diversity of ages can result in conflict.  Older workers brand younger coworkers as technology obsessed and lazy with a promote me now attitude.  Younger workers stereotype older coworkers as technology adverse and stuck in their ways.  Let’s look at the different generations in the workplace and understand how to build teamwork across the generations.

The Five Generations in the Workplace

In their 1991 book Generations, Strauss and Howe first posited the generational cohort theory.  The Strauss-Howe generational cohort theory defines a generation as a group of people born during a certain time period that share common beliefs and values because of the major events that occurred as they were coming of age.  Parenting styles and societal norms also helped shape each generation.

uilding Generational Teamwork-5 Generations

Excluding the Baby Boomer generation, social scientists do not agree on the age boundaries for each group.  Given that we are in the age of disruption the length of a generation is becoming shorter.  In the future, there will be more generations in the workplace.

 Workplace Preferences of The Five Generations

The common values, beliefs, parenting styles and societal norms of each generation have resulted in workplace preferences.  Each generation prefers certain leadership styles, decision-making methods, modes of communication, the frequency of feedback, and degrees of transparency.  The generational preferences around decision making and modes of communication cause many conflicts in the work environment.  Technology has enabled employees to instantly find information and share opinions about anything and everything all the time.

Building Generational Teamwork-Workplace Preferences

The Millennials and iGens are comfortable using chat and video chat to communicate constantly in real time to gather information, share ideas and make decisions.  Many Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, and Gen Xers are frustrated by the constant use of smartphones and/or laptops and younger employees voicing their opinions.  Although each person has unique preferences, it can be helpful to view conflict through a generational lens.

Building Teamwork Across Generations

First and foremost, we should believe that our coworkers want the team to win just as much as we want the team to win.  With this in mind, we can use a six-step process to build teamwork across generations:

  1. Focus on the purpose of the work – Define why the work must be done in a certain timeframe to help the business succeed.
  2. Acknowledge the shared goals – Articulate what success looks like and how it will be measured.
  3. Listen to the different points of view – Actively listen to each team member and understand their ideas to help achieve the shared goals.  Acknowledge that you understand their point of view.
  4. Understand the generational differences – As you listen to each team member, you will probably recognize that they are not being difficult.   There may be some generational preferences at play.
  5. Collaborate on the best approach for achieving results – Once everyone has been heard, the group should first summarize where there is shared agreement.  Then acknowledge where there are differences and work on a plan to resolve the differences to achieve the shared goals.
  6. Recognize and celebrate the contributions of all team members – As the team wins, each person should also be recognized and thanked for their contributions.

A team with multiple generations can work together in a collaborative way.  Contact the experts at Illinois BIS to help ensure your success in building this high-performing team for your organization!

Francene Pelmon
Senior Consultant, Illinois BIS

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