Whenever I write about multigenerational teams in the workplace, I get a lot of feedback. Lately, the comments focus on Millennials (ages 38-27): “They play with their phones in meetings—it drives me crazy!” one manager said. A few years ago I heard, “Why are Gen Xers (ages 51-39) so rude? They keep asking ‘Why?’” Not all that long ago, I was in the target generation: we Boomers (ages 69-52) were not beloved by the Veteran generation (ages 70 and older). “Worthless long-haired Hippies!” was the phrase that sticks with me. Very soon, everyone—including Millennials—will be complaining about Gen Zers (ages 26-17) who are just now entering the workforce.  

How can we build successful multigenerational teams when stereotypes too often fill our minds with unhelpful assumptions? What we know from Patrick Lencioni’s 5 Behaviors of a Cohesive Team® the strongest teams

Trust one another.

Engage in conflict around ideas.

Commit to discussions.

Hold one another accountable.

Focus on collective results.

How can we apply these behaviors to build productive multigenerational teams?

Trust one another. Trust is foundational to teams of any generation. Without trust, there is poor communication. The research tells us, however, that the younger the employee, the more he or she demands that trust be earned.

Veteran generation team members will trust a title even before meeting that team member (“He/she must have done something right!”), but Richard Nixon destroyed that automatic response in Baby Boomers in 1974 when he confessed to the Watergate scandal and resigned the Presidency. Gen Xers and Millennials have an unusual skill in the area of trust: if you can name the corporation, they can name the scandal. Just mention Waste Management, Enron, WorldCom, AIG, Freddie Mac, and the more recent Volkswagen, FIFA and Turing Pharmaceuticals scandals and they know when, how and why they were busted. These two generations have little trust of organizations or their leadership.

Ask your team, “What actions make you distrust others?” Discuss what specific actions you and others can take to engender trust. Building — and rebuilding — trust is a continuous activity.

Engage in conflict around ideas. The challenge for a multigenerational team is to give every idea a fair and equal airing. From experience in hierarchical organizations, Veterans and Boomers might assume that the youngest team member lacks the experience to have a good idea, while Gen Xers and Millennials assume that their ideas will be accepted immediately as valuable. Gen Xers and Millennials are very egalitarian and have been asked for their preferences and opinions since they could talk (“Do you want the grape juice box or the apple juice box?”), yet they too often assume the longest tenured team member’s idea couldn’t be a fresh, new approach.

Great ideas can come from any corner of the organization. Given the increasing diversity of our clients, the diversity of our employees (including the diversity of their age and tenure) becomes more of an asset. Build project enthusiasm by encouraging ideas from all team members and by guiding a robust vetting process.

Commit to discussions. Expectations for team discussions need to be a topic at the first meeting as part of the Team Charter. Veteran employees may want to move to action without discussion (“You should know what to do.”), while Boomers may permit too-lengthy meetings to build consensus. Gen Xers are willing to discuss but dislike long meetings. Millennials would prefer to avoid face-to-face meetings altogether but would willingly use shareware, Skype or other technology if it allowed them to participate in meetings from offsite. Interestingly, Gen Zers (ages 26-17) want face-to-face meetings and less texting and email.

Successful teams commit to regular meetings, a project plan with deadlines and have a format for sharing updates — with or without a technology-assist.

Hold one another accountable. Accountability can be learned by team members in all generations.

Many of us hold others more accountable for positive results than we hold ourselves. In an accountable organization, or on a successful team, others on the project will be notified quickly if a deadline cannot be met or if quality standards are slipping so that “Plan B” can be put into action. Team members can expect few “surprises” that risk derailing the project and that team members will support each other to ensure that the entire project arrives on time and on budget.

Focus on collective results. The ultimate goal of building trust, conflict skills, commitment and accountability is one thing: the achievement of results.

In addition to results, the benefits of a productive, high-functioning multigenerational team are many. Highly effective teams make better, faster decisions and tap into the skills and opinions of all members. They avoid wasting time and energy on politics, confusion, destructive conflict and talking about the wrong issues or revisiting the same topics over and over again because of a lack of buy-in. Every high-performing, diverse team creates a competitive advantage for the organization. And — perhaps most important — they are more fun for all team members of all generations!

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