Different generations in the workplace can collaborate successfully

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By Phyllis Weiss Haserot
This is part of a series of regular columns by generational expert and internationally known consultant, coach, writer, and speaker Phyllis Weiss Haserot on intergenerational relations and navigating the challenges of the multi-generational workplace for better productivity, retention, succession planning, and business development results.

Ever since computers became standard operating equipment on each person’s desk in the workplace, we have been hearing that the older generations are technophobes who resist working in the way the younger generations do and will not bridge the gap technologically. As time went on and Boomers became more accustomed to technology, the tech gap has become less of an impediment. Of course, the Boomers are not as tech savvy as Gen Y, who never knew a world without computers and increasingly without Web 2.0 applications, But computer use is a given by all the generations now and will fade away as an obstacle.

Indeed, the greater divide among generations is attitudinal and behavioral. With awareness, understanding, willingness, and

Generational DefinitionsHere are some quick definitions. Generations are defined by the similar formative influences – social, cultural, political, economic – that existed as the individuals of particular birth cohorts were growing up. Given that premise, the age breakdowns for each of the four generations currently in the workplace are approximately:

Traditionalists born 1925-1942
Baby Boomers born 1943-1962
Generation X born 1963-1978
Generation Y/Millennials born 1979-1998 (under age 30 today)

facilitation, the divides can be bridged to produce harmonious collaboration.

One way the four generations (see box below) we encounter today in the workplace, to generalize, tend to think differently is about how collaboration happens. The oldest generation, the Traditionalists (born approx. 1925-1942) have a hierarchical mentality. The Baby Boomers (1943-1962) like to collaborate in person at meetings, brainstorming with all hands available until the project is completed. Generation Xers (1963-1978) are more autonomous and goal-oriented, and each individual prefers a specific role they can handle as they wish. They prefer to minimize in-person meetings and collaborate with group software. Collaboration is a signature attribute of Generation Y/Millennials (1979-1998), Sharing is second nature, but they want to be sure they are recognized individually. They expect to collaborate technologically rather than at in-person meetings and often supply their own tech devices and applications if not provided for them.

In times of economic stress, these differences are often magnified, so articulating expectations and getting buy-in to the what and the how are even more important.

While these differences in approaches are clearly a challenge for a team leader, the divides can be bridged if there are similarities in values and upfront agreement on goals. Diversity in contribution and method to achieve goals if managed sensitively can be the bonus (gift) of creative collaboration.

As I have said many times before, it is facilitated dialogues among the people who actually work together in internal teams, marketing teams or with clients that fosters collaboration and achieves lasting change. Here is a case study to illustrate.

Some of the LESSONS LEARNED from my experiences facilitating multi-generational team dialogues are:

  • The director or /team leader needs to be supported.
  • Clarity upfront in laying out expectations and appropriate roles promotes engagement and cooperation.
  • Open lines of communication break down hidden resentments.
  • People need to understand how what they are asked to do fits into the big picture.
  • Everyone wants and needs respectful feedback and opportunities and support for growth.
  • Negative emotions hinder productivity, and positive emotions and attitudes are the foundation for increasing productivity and high quality work people are proud of.

Please continue to send your thoughts, comments and stories my way.

© Phyllis Weiss Haserot, 2009. All rights reserved.
Phyllis Weiss Haserot is the president of Practice Development Counsel, a business development and organizational effectiveness consulting and coaching firm she founded over 20 years ago. A special focus is on the profitability of improving inter-generational relations and transitioning planning for baby boomer senior partners. Haserot is the author of "The Rainmaking Machine" and "The Marketer's Handbook of Tips & Checklists" (both Thomson/West 2008).

See all of the articles in this series.

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