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Working with Multigenerational Project Teams

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As a project management professional for 20 years, I've managed IT projects in a variety of industries and regions, including North America, Latin America and Europe. Most of the projects were regional or global, and the project teams included members from different nationalities, cultures and generations.

Although complexity was a common denominator in these projects, it wasn't because of technology. It was because the people had what I call the "multi" factor: multinational, multicultural or multigenerational project teams.

The "multi" factor plays an important role in projects, and project managers must be prepared to address team issues related to this phenomenon. I hope to do that here, starting with multigenerational teams.

The multigenerational work force has created what I call the "21st Century Organizational Ecosystem." Many organizations may find themselves dealing with generational clashes between a 60-something program manager, a 40-something project manager, a 30-something project team leader and a 20-something project team member. This could just be one facet of this ecosystem.

Project managers should understand the generational gaps in their project teams at the outset of a project. Identifying those gaps at the beginning enables the project manager to discern the preferred communication methods, interpretation of hierarchy and authority, as well as the perception of personal and work time.

Leading a multigenerational project team can be like riding a roller coaster or a day at the beach. It depends on how quickly project managers can enhance their multigenerational behaviors and values to creating the synergy required to have a successful project team.

How have you experienced the multigenerational factor in project teams? How has working with different generations affected your projects?

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3 Comments

Great post, thank you for articulating this so well. I LOVE that our team is multigenerational and we can layer experience with enthusiasm and fresh eyes looking at the way we are servicing the needs of our clients.

Our clients too are "multi" and the people who attend the events we plan - also "multi" - since this seems to be the way of our world (just walk into even any McDonalds and you will see multigenerations at work), we might as well just catch up and find better ways to bring out the best in everyone.

Tools for doing this are many but begin with the three Rs you mention - great overall resource you have given us, thank you!

Thank you for a thoughtful post, Conrado.

It's refreshing to hear how you and Tom raise two key points when working with multi-generations:
1. Avoid sterotypes
2. Consider the whole individual's experience, credentials, etc. and what they have to offer the project (look beyond the labels).

Tom, I like your 3 R's concept re: each generation. You've summarized it cleverly!

In our culture design work, we have also found that focusing on similarities between the multi-generations reduced conflict and opened new pathways toward empowering the collective group and accountability from the team.

For example (where it is appropriate) assuming overall project charter and structure is in place and everyone is clear on what needs to be done, ask the group given their experiences "how" together they can achieve it.

This engages all generations with opportunity to contribute to tasks and priorities that are meaningful (vs. just assigned) and gives everyone a voice to offer input into new solutions toward complex business challenges.

Best,
Judy
The Infusion Group™


In my project team, I have team members who are close to retirement (Silent Generation), 40-somethings (Gen X) and 20-30-Somethings (Gen Y).

What I have found is that each generation (in general without buying into traditional stereotypes) is looking to the project manager for different things:

Silents want Respect
Gen X wants Responsibility
Gen Y wants Resources

Ultimately you have to approach each person on the team as an individual and age/experience/history are one aspect of each person's background that the PM needs to take into account as you work with them.

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