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Rather than making positive or negative conclusions about a culture, project managers need to build awareness and understand that cultures exist relative to each other. The challenge is to determine the actions that will enable them to successfully manage projects and reconcile the relative differences.
Project managers should consider the five W's to successfully work collaboratively on a global project.
Who: Who is working on the project? Everyone. It is rare to find a stakeholder or team member working on a project that has little or no contact with people from a different culture of their own.
What: What skills do project managers need to develop that will make them credible in another culture's eyes?
A project manager may be fluent in one or more foreign languages, for example. While that will help him or her communicate with others, it will not give the project manager the understanding on how a culture understands deadlines or other aspects of business. Project managers must listen and observe while working in a global setting to learn these things.
Where: Where is there opportunity to learn? Project managers should interact with people of different cultures inside and outside of the business world to navigate through unfamiliar cultures. Next time an intercultural opportunity arises, seize the moment to observe, reflect and learn.
When: When is the best time to collaborate with a multicultural team? Select an activity where all or most of your team members participate, such as a project status meeting. Does every culture respect a set meeting time, for example? In some cultures, there are no written rules of time etiquette, and a single event can be interpreted in a multitude of ways.
Why: Why should you care about multicultural traditions? As a project manager, you will have to manage teams that are partially collocated and across time zones. You should be somewhat comfortable in foreign environments and cognizant of local customs to continue learning and effectively conduct projects.
As a global project manager, how do you apply the five W's?
As project managers in a global environment, we are now more often expected to lead multi-regional projects. This adds the element of different cultures -- both national and organizational -- that adds can add complexity to projects.
Perhaps your experience is similar to mine when working with project teams in a global environment. My multicultural project team consists of senior stakeholders, a deployment team and a technical support team. All team members have varying experience in the organization, but also can come from very different cultural backgrounds.
There can be a struggle when starting a project in a culture that you are not familiar with. How do you bring everyone together to share a common vision and commitment on the project delivery? I have learned that I need to develop strong cultural competencies to manage a multicultural project team effectively and to establish connections with the team members.
I like to use three tactics when on-boarding a new team member from a different culture:
1. Explain the purpose and benefits of the project to help establish the bond between the team member and the project objectives. Stress the importance of his or her role and how his or her local experience and knowledge will benefit the project.
2. Discuss any concerns that the team member may have, such as with language or customs. This can also help break the ice and show that you understand how difficult cross-cultural relationships can be.
3. Emphasize what is important to you, whether it's work ethic or communication methods, and why it's important. Don't assume that all of your expectations are globally understood.
When I manage a project abroad, one of my preferred ways to build cultural awareness is by spending time visiting popular spots where the locals meet. For example, at restaurants, coffee shops, sporting events and shopping centers, you can observe customs, traditions and behaviors.
Your observations in those settings can help to answer your questions about the culture. But it's just not observation that will help you. People are very proud of their cultures and customs and are often keen to help you understand them. This supports the need to build a rapport with your team, whilst also building your awareness.
It's also important to understand your own culture's norms and behaviors. That knowledge helps guard against interpreting another culture's behaviors in terms of your own unexamined expectations.
As a global project manager, how do you manage a multicultural team?
But every team member approaches commitment in a different way. Different generations place different values on pursuing work-life balance.
A strong work ethic is a characteristic of the older members of the project team, part of the silent generation. Members of this generation tend to want to work a reduced number of hours to be able to devote time to personal activities.
Baby boomers, the generation referred to as workaholics, consider work a high priority and greatly value teamwork. In my opinion, they are focused on their achievements and are willing to work long hours to achieve project success.
Generation X is good at controlling their time. This generation has a desire to control and set a career path, personal ambitions and work time.
Generation Y is driven by a strong preference for work-life balance. Many Gen Yers look for jobs that provide them great personal fulfillment.
In my opinion, one of our tasks as project managers is to find ways to shed the stress in our project team members' lives. Part of that is to better understand the work-life balance needs of team members from different generations.
To bring a better work-life balance to any generation, define more accurate project schedules based on flexibility, telecommuting and time off.
Tell us about actions you have adopted to meet project goals and still accommodate team members' work-life balance needs.
Eventually, I learned that the project board had rejected this proposed project before. I discovered that a stakeholder who had pushed to start the project several times -- despite the fact that the board discarded it -- approached my team member, who happened to be a junior member and new graduate.
As a new member to our team, I had to explain the project selection process of our organization. The board selects projects from a business-oriented approach. Under this direction, projects produce business benefits that will contribute to achieve organization's strategic objectives. The proposed project did not fit this mindset, but as a new project team member, how could he have known?
I explained further to this project team member that in this mindset, project professionals must wear a business and technical hat. Depending on the situation, project managers must ensure that their project teams deliver projects that will produce the benefits and results that the organization is looking for.
This is just one example of how project professionals will need to be able to coach "multi" teams, especially those made up of new and young project members. You can't assume that everyone on the team shares your same knowledge.
Eventually, the junior team member understood why only projects that will help the organization fulfill its intended purpose should be selected. A few days later, we met with the stakeholder to ask for specifics about the project with regard to the organizational benefits.
How do you coach junior project team members when they are less knowledgeable?
As a result, some organizations are trying a "day without email" on Fridays and/or weekends to encourage more face-to-face and phone contact with customers and colleagues. How do you think this would be received by a multigenerational project team?
For baby boomer and silent generation team members, face-to-face may be a preferred communication method. But for members of Gen Y, not communicating by email may make them feel like a fish out of water because of their preference for virtual communication.
As the "day without email" idea progresses gradually, employees in these organizations are probably realizing that business functions are about human relationships. This is an opportunity to foster a coaching environment in which Gen X and Gen Y will be able to hone their interpersonal skills supported by senior project team members.
For those project team members who use technology frequently, discuss alternatives that will reduce the dependency of email in their daily activities.
How much do you depend on technology for your daily activities? How would your project team survive the "day without email" policy? Would you enjoy having a day free of email?
The project manager must inspire the members of different generations while recognizing and reconciling generation gaps to develop a healthy environment within the team.
To do so, you must:
1. Win the team members' trust and loyalty
Successful leaders need people around them who share the same mission and vision, and are enthusiastic about it. As a project manager, you must win the trust of the people you are leading.
Your experience as project manager and confidence in your ability to succeed will inspire and make people believe in your capacities as project manager, regardless of what generation they are part of.
2. Do things differently
Think about new and different ways to approach a project or project tasks. Get feedback from your team members and peers to use different approaches, tools and techniques when addressing project tasks. This will motivate your team members to take a more active role in the project.
3. Thank those who help your project to succeed
Project success depends on how well the project team performs. Great leaders know that showing appreciation is a great way to show people they are valued, which everyone appreciates. Say "thank you" and recognize publicly those who helped the project to succeed.
Define and communicate to the project team a recognition system and, from time to time, let them know how much you value their efforts and how much they mean to your organization.
As a project manager, what are you doing to enhance your leadership skills? How do you lead and inspire multigenerational project team members?
Read more about acknowledgement.
We concurred that when the person receiving information has a low retention, it results in false assumptions and misunderstanding the topic of discussion.
Why is this happening? Why, if the person receiving information confirms that everything is clear, do we still we face communication issues in projects? Usually, it's because taking notes in a meeting is going away, as many team members wait for a meeting recap that notes their action items.
In face-to-face communication, we spend most of the time listening -- and apparently, we're not good at it. We filter what we want to hear and that may result in a broken message.
The senior member of my team referenced earlier is part of the silent generation. He mastered his listening skills in an environment without all of the ways to "replay" conversations that we use today.
In addition, he mentioned that the communication environment was "less polluted" than today, where we are bombarded with things that affect our ability to pay attention.
I asked the senior team member what are the key elements of good listening skills, based on his experience. He recommended:
- Pay attention to the dialogue and receive the message.
- Acknowledge the message using positive expressions, such as "OK" or "I see."
- Confirm the message was received by summarizing what was discussed.
- Ask questions to the person giving information during and after the discussion.
The skills include political and multicultural awareness. But, since the project team environment has evolved over the last 10 years, I think a new interpersonal skill should be required, not only for project managers but also for team members and stakeholders: multigenerational awareness.
Generations as cultures are based on invisible values, beliefs, attitudes and assumptions created by shared experiences and events. These differ across generations, and each will likely feel or behave differently in the same situation. The lack of cultural awareness may lead to a misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the situation.
As a project manager leading a multigenerational team, you must know how to handle generational differences.
Try to empathize with someone from a different generation and understand where he or she is coming from. Listen to the meaning behind words and interpret non-verbal clues rather than applying generational stereotypes. Focus on making that connection with individuals of different generations to build a meaningful relationship.
When your multigenerational project team disagrees, in my experience, it's often because people are following those generational fundamental values. As the project manager, you need to assume a humble attitude and question rather than assert. Asking people to explain themselves before assuming anything shows respect.
Building awareness around generational differences in your project team can ultimately help avoid any problems. Encourage your team to:
Avoid making quick judgments of values. Try to understand the value and its historical reason. Values evolve as people live their lives in different periods of time.
Define a balancing act. Figure out how to manage different perspectives and different ways to doing things.
What are you doing to build generational awareness in your team?
Read more posts from Conrado Morlan.
Read Dmitri Ivanenko's post on Answering the Loaded Question in Project Management.
The new project may be a good opportunity to fulfill a younger team member's aspiration of becoming a project leader. But to groom project managers from a different generation, you must assess their skills and define an action plan.
After the action plan is completed, the Gen Y manager will start a transition period to prove his capacities by executing the associated project activities. Ninety days is usually appropriate.
During this period the Gen Y project manager will be vulnerable. It will be important that whoever is coaching the Gen Yer, establish a solid working relationship and that you help him or her to navigate the new role.
To effectively coach and train the Gen Y project manager, have your trainee do the following:
- Assume the role. Have the Gen Y member take a mental break from the team member role and take charge of the project manager role. What has made him successful in his previous position will not necessarily make him successful in the new role as a project manager.
- Get familiar. Make sure the Gen Y member understands the project scope and identify what he or she needs to know about the organizational structure and procedures, and corporate culture and politics during the transition period.
- Build success. Define an action plan and meet frequently with the Gen Y member to set and manage expectations.
- Recognize quick wins. Identify areas in which results can be produced and will create value for the project. This will help to build the younger project manager's credibility.
- Network. Meet with the Gen Y project manager to define networking guidelines and build a list of people that may be important to network within the organization. Facilitate meetings and follow-up networking progress.
Have you had the opportunity to recommend a Gen Y member of your team to lead a project? If so, what did you do to support him or her?
As the first Mexican national recipient of the award, it's an honor and a responsibility. This award represents the global recognition PMI bestows upon individuals who contribute to the growth of the project management profession.
In 2008, I joined a group of volunteers that acts globally and domestically. I learned about the extent to which PMI volunteers offer their services, including writing PMI standards, preparing questions for certification exams, organizing global congresses, and presenting at PMI events.
My first official volunteer activity was as a presenter at PMI® Global Congress 2008--Latin America in São Paulo, Brazil. There, I had the opportunity to meet practitioners from different latitudes and to share my experience working on multigenerational and multicultural project teams.
After the global congress, I had many more opportunities pop up to continue supporting PMI's culture of volunteerism and promoting the value of multicultural project teams.
I seized the opportunity to mentor young project managers and create project management knowledge. I was able to impact society after I helped the PMI Madrid, Spain Chapter translate into Spanish the Project Management Methodology for Post Disaster Reconstruction. The final product was ready at the time an earthquake hit Chile. The local chapter and Chilean authorities used this document to help manage post-disaster projects.
These opportunities have been excellent learning experiences that have enriched me personally and professionally. They've given me the opportunity to touch lives and persuade other colleagues to volunteer.
I've been lucky that the team members noticed my volunteer efforts and endorsed my nomination for the PMI Distinguished Contribution Award.
If you are an experienced project practitioner and would be interested to contribute to the profession you can:
- Create project management knowledge. Write articles for project management magazines or chapter newsletters. Become active in a community of practice. Or, conduct presentations at PMI congress events or monthly chapter meetings.
- Share your experience updating PMI standards. PMI standards are updated frequently and subject matter experts are required to create and manage the context of the new versions.
- Bring fresh blood to your local chapter. PMI chapters always look for volunteers that can be part of the chapter board or who are willing to support the chapter functions.
See more posts from Conrado.
See more posts from PMI® Global Congress 2011--North America.
These team members are potential candidates to transition to higher ranks once their senior project managers and program managers are ready to retire.
Veteran project managers and program managers who are close to retirement are looking for the right successor. But that can be challenging because of the divergence of values among generations.
Cultural and generational beliefs and behaviors have both "visible" and "invisible" components.
Visible elements of beliefs and behaviors are easy to observe and represent the 'what' of cultures and generations. For example, baby boomers are confident, independent and self-reliant, and those from the Silent generation are disciplined and loyal.
The invisible part is not easy to observe and represents the 'why' of cultures and generations. It holds values, beliefs, attitudes and assumptions that are a result of shared experiences.
During Generation X's childhood years, in the mid 60's and 70's, there was an intense competition between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union. This competition influenced people to strive towards their country goal and fostered teamwork.
The competition between countries included fields like economy, politics, science and sports. Generation X was born into, and grew up in this competitive environment. They have taken their culture and spirit to the workplace and positively impact project teams with their pragmatism, competence and technological savvy.
In my opinion, project managers and team members of different generations need to look on the invisible side of their beliefs and values to understand each other and avoid stereotyping and creating the wrong perception.
As a project manager, what would you say is the main contribution of Gen X team members? What other invisible factors had a positive effect for generations now in the workforce?
These 20-something new graduates, or "millennials," have lived in a technologically ubiquitous world. They've always been recognized independently of their abilities and have mastered virtual collaboration skills.
Projects provide an ideal work environment for millennials because of their temporary nature. Many in Generation Y are searching for assignments that fulfill them personally and challenge the status quo. And they like to develop solutions supported by technology.
Their attraction to technology may cause some project managers to find it challenging to communicate with millennials who don't follow traditional business formalities. For example, those that favor sending task and project status via text message rather than standard report templates.
In the project environment, millennials are closer in temperament and outlook to baby boomers. They look for smart mentors who don't talk down to them. When these types of relationships mature, boomers will show millennials how their wants can align with an organization's needs.
Millennials bring much to project environment: the ability to rapidly adapt to change, the ease with which they embrace diversity and a strong collaborative spirit. They've grown up in a changing and diverse world and have mastered many abilities that are important to projects.
As a project or program manager, how do you attract young team members and keep them on your projects? What is the biggest challenge you have faced in working with millennial team members?
Read more from Conrado.
Read more on teams.
As a member of this generation, I can attest that baby boomers are competitive by nature. We are confident, independent and self-reliant. Although respectful of authority and hierarchy, baby boomers think that rules can be changed. Thus, don't be surprised if during a project meeting baby boomers argue about the project issues.
While leading a multigenerational team, baby boomer project managers will face conflicts due to the diversity of generational values. Addressing conflict in a multigenerational team will require for the project manager to master a multigenerational mindset.
That means you must:
• Understand that beliefs and values are not easy to change. Learn about why other generations behave as they do.
• Put yourself in someone else's shoes to get a better perspective on what motivates the multigenerational team.
• Work with the generational differences rather against them. Establish an on-going and candid communication environment that fosters dialog among the team members.
Regardless of your generation, your purpose as a project manager is to lead and inspire your project team while leveraging the divergent point of views of your team members.
As a baby boomer project manager, how do you deal with generational differences in your project team? Are you doing something to master your multigenerational mindset?
See more posts about multigenerational teams.
As a project manager of multigenerational teams, my main objective is to figure out how to reconcile generational differences. These differences occur in everything from values and characteristics to priorities and motivation to feelings toward technology and management styles.
In order to more effectively manage multigenerational project teams, I not only need to focus on a team member's visible characteristic actions and behaviors, I have to find out more about his or her generation's beliefs and attitudes. From here, I can tailor my management style.
Take the Silent Generation, for example. Members of this generation were born pre-World War II. In the United States, this generation grew up in a time of economic turmoil and world conflicts. They set their values on discipline, respect and self-sacrifice.
For me, it's very important to understand that discipline, loyalty and working within the system are among the values that members of the Silent Generation will bring to my project team. I have to appreciate that those members have a vast knowledge to share and high standards on work ethic.
In communicating with members of the Silent Generation, I've found that face-to-face meetings are more effective than using e-mail or conference calls when discussing project matters.
Team members who belong to the Silent Generation have a clear understanding of authority, regardless of how old the project managers they work for are. This, along with respect for authority, was prevalent in their early years as they grew up in homes where the mother typically stayed at home and the father went to work.
Members of the Silent Generation bring experience and balance to the project team environment. Their views are based more on common sense than on technology -- as is the case with some in younger generations.
Do you have members of the Silent Generation on your team? What challenges have you faced with them? How do you deal with those challenges?
Read more from Conrado.
Read more on teams.
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?
See more posts about teams.