By now, most enterprise project managers have become accustomed to the challenges of managing large, diverse and decentralized project teams. While working with stakeholders in different cities or countries once posed a significant obstacle, modern project management and collaboration tools now enable teams to work productively across geographic and cultural boundaries.
Another aspect of large project teams, however, can be trickier to address—the challenge of managing team members from different generations. Project managers who lead teams of dozens or hundreds of stakeholders, including internal employees and external vendors, inevitably find themselves dealing with a wide range of work habits, technological abilities and communication styles.
Some of these differences, though of course not all, may be due to generational differences. Baby boomers and millennials, separated by age gaps of 20 years or more, tend to have different attitudes about how they prefer to work and how they want to be managed. As a project manager, you can prevent unnecessary conflict and miscommunication by taking the time to understand the differences between generations.
Managing Baby Boomers
The first baby boomers reached retirement age a few years ago, and millions of them are leaving the job market each year. Even so, boomers still make up a significant percentage of the global workforce, and will continue to do so for years to come. When managing baby boomers on a project team, keep in mind that they did not grow up in the internet age, and may not have the same intuitive grasp of technology that many younger team members have. However, don’t assume that baby boomers are technologically illiterate—you may be surprised how often they outpace their younger colleagues in picking up new skills.
Millennials are now a force to be reckoned with in the workforce. Employees born in the 1980’s or later are filling new jobs, managing projects and even running corporations. While it’s impossible to make accurate statements about such a broad group of people, millennials in the workplace are typically focused on working collaboratively, learning new skills and being involved in decisions regarding their assignments. Millennials are often more prone to switching careers, so you may see more turnover on your team among younger employees.
Bridging the Generations
The most important lesson for project managers is to avoid treating team members as simply an example of one generation or another. Every employee has unique skills and opinions, which may or may not mirror those of his or her peers. In fact, it’s a good idea never to refer to team members’ ages or generations when talking with (or even about) them. However, a general understanding of each generations’ background and tendencies can help you tailor your expectations and keep team members of all ages fully engaged on each project.