Managing Multiple Generations for Effective Collaboration

young man presenting to team Wayne O'Neill and AssociatesThe “traditional” business model is no longer working.  Why?  Competitors are now global and come from younger, fast growing markets who approach business differently.  Overarching these challenges is the need to successfully manage today’s multi-generational workforce.

Whether you are trying to hire just the right person to your team or work more effectively with leadership, you need to appreciate the qualities that each generation brings to the table.   Compare the four generations to better understand their values and expectations.  By taking time to understand where each generation is coming from, you can learn to draw upon strengths, decrease frustrations, and work more effectively together.


Builders (1922-1946) tend to be:

  • Civic minded and value duty, tradition, and loyalty
  • Practical and built most of the U.S. infrastructure
  • Dedicated Work Ethic – Produce quality work
  • Leadership by hierarchy with command and control
  • Respect authority, seniority and job titles
  • Seek approval of authority before making decisions
  • Willing to sacrifice personally for their country and company
  • View work as an obligation, but like to be honored with plaques & symbolic records of achievement
  • Expect courtesy
  • Change=something’s wrong
  • Build a legacy
  • Linear work style – go from A to B to C –  used to sitting at a desk and working 9 to 5


Baby Boomers (1946-1960) tend to be:

  • Team oriented yet value individuality and tolerance
  • Optimistic outlook on the future
  • Focused and take pride in being hard workers
  • Like recognition for accomplishments
  • Driven / strong work ethic – committed to do whatever it takes to get the job done, compete, and excel
  • Love/hate view of authority
  • Respect hierarchy and seek to discover alternative ways to get results
  • Vision how things ought to look, feel or be in order to accomplish the end result.  (Other generations sometimes view this as micro-managing.)
  • Like to be “hands-on” involved
  • Willing to make sacrifices for the good of the “the company” or “the project”
  • Relationship oriented; soul searchers
  • Leadership by trying to form consensus, but will move on, if consensus is not attained because the overall purpose or mission is more important than the consensus.
  • Change=calculated risk takers; change agents
  • Build a stellar career
  • Structured work style


Gen X (1960-1980) tend to be:

  • Self-reliant; independence holds a strong value
  • Pragmatic and value being savvy
  • Skeptical outlook of the future
  • Unimpressed view of authority
  • Reluctant to make commitments
  • Must require them to attend meetings or they may leave
  • Constantly seeking the best technology, adventure holidays, extreme sports, toys and time off
  • Outcome oriented, yet flexible and adaptable if the given specific goals and some resources
  • Balanced work ethic – want “a life” – value time to play and be healthy to balance out work
  • Leadership must show competence in order to be worth listening to
  • Dislike being micro-managed by boomers.  Believe in doing their job without needing daily praise or feedback
  • Thrive when given projects they can control, prioritize and juggle
  • Change=potential opportunity
  • Build a portable career
  • Informal work style


Gen Y / Millennials (1980-2000) tend to be:

  • Confident, frank and open about their expectations and desires
  • Value authenticity and autonomy
  • Hopeful outlook of the future
  • Polite view of authority
  • Inclusive relationships and diversity is the norm
  • Expect feedback on demand
  • Want flat governance and expect higher levels of hierarchy to listen to their viewpoints and suggestions
  • Optimistic and goal-oriented, especially with work they consider meaningful
  • Committed to collective action for the greater good
  • Enjoy collaboration, networking, and multitasking
  • Digitally native fast-learners and embrace emerging technologies
  • Well educated; seek mentorships, training, and knowledge to eliminate ignorance
  • Expect work-life balance within their day
  • Determined work ethic – used to having their opinions solicited, listened to and acted upon
  • Like open avenues for education and skills building and organized group outings
  • Eager to add value by offering new solutions and creatively leveraging technology – flips roles by teaching superiors how to use technology
  • Respect leaders who demonstrate competence
  • Leadership by pulling together inclusively
  • Change=improvement
  • Build a parallel career
  • Fluid work style – may arrive to work “late,” leave during the day to run errands, submit reports remotely and work from home at night.


In answering the question, “How can I get different generations to work together?”, Kathy Caprino, founder/president of Ellia Communications and author of Breakdown, Breakthrough, recommends

5 Steps that Lead Generations to Effectively Collaborate, Support and Contribute:

1.  Learn & Understand – Study the values and motivations of each generation.

2.  Respect – The key to working together is respect for all individuals, and their right to their own beliefs, values, customs, and ways of operating.  Create a culture that values multi-generational perspectives in order to draw upon the strengths of each.  Be open minded about how work is performed.  When faced with the conflict between generations, instead of choosing to escalate and assert one’s position, seek to understand and find common ground.

3.  Share & Explore – Build a structure for open, candid dialogue and exchange between employees through such avenues as:   lunch-and-learn programs, networking and socializing opportunities, off-sites, training and educational programs.  Create pathways for communication and education that encourage everyone to address their generational problems directly with those they work with.   For additional information on how to keep employees happy and productive, check out our blog:  “Employee Satisfaction…Does it improve your ROI?…Is it worth the investment?”

4.  Leverage through Collaboration – Instead of trying to hide or suppress differences, pair up individuals of different generations in teams, and allow them to discuss how they see their shared projects and how they would execute them.  Help them complement each other’s styles and capabilities to collaborate in a way that makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

5.  Bridge the gaps – No one generation or individual has all the answers.  There are gaps in individuals’ capabilities, views, values and priorities.  Bridge the gaps by helping each generation understand the value that each generation brings to the table.  Do not tolerate anyone labeling another “wrong” for expressing one’s views.  As a co-worker, you don’t have to adopt someone else’s style, but in order to move forward, identify the differences and find a way to integrate how work and progress will be viewed, executed and achieved.  As the leader, empower each individual to bring their authentic self to the table and let them know they are valued as an individual but expected to collaborate as a team.  Demonstrate how collaborating as fully as possible with others brings innovation and grows your business.


The point is that each generation possesses skills and drivers that can be complimentary to a team and has a treasure chest to offer any organization today.  The challenge to any CEO – whether a Baby Boomer, Gen X, Gen Y or Millennial – is how to maximize those individuals’ potential, and how to do so in harmonious, mutually respectful teams.


“3 Things to Look out for when Making a Job Offer to a Gen Y”  by Adwoa K. Buahene, March 21, 2013 ngen: the next generation of people performance

“How Can I Get Different Generations to Work Together?”  by Kathy Caprino of Work Reimaged

“Defining a Generation:  Tips for Uniting Our Multi-Generational Workforce” by Dan King of Career Planning and Management Inc.

“Generational Differences At Work”

“Generations in the Workplace in the United States & Canada” Catalyst  May 1, 2012

“Conflict and Generations in the Workplace” by Jamie Notter, ASTD -world’s largest professional association dedicated to training and development,  March 6, 2013


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