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Can Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen X and Millennials all work together? How four-era teams can learn to collaborate

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It has taken centuries (in fact, millennia) for an extraordinary situation to occur in the workplace: there are now no fewer than four identifiably different generations employed in enterprises and organisations around the world.

That means that project teams often comprise any mixture of representatives from these age ranges.

What does that immediately spark as a thought – generation gap?

Project management application vendors including Clarizen, AtTask and Microsoft Project have studied the situation to find out more about the different work profiles of the ‘four ages’.

  1. Traditionalists

Born between 1922 and 1945, these workers have not gone into retirement, possibly because of economic pressures (they cannot afford not to work).

But it may also be because they want to leave a lasting legacy at work. A strong work ethic, aversion to risk, long-term focus and attention to detail are among their qualities.

  1. Baby Boomers

Birth years between 1946 and 1964, they also want to put their stamp on their work, with an emphasis on career progression, relationship management, added value and involvement in decisions.

A desire for personal growth is tempered by an orientation towards team-working.

  1. Generation-X

Entering the world between 1965 and 1980, they are more concerned by their work-life balance, while paying attention to results and demonstrating greater individualism.

Self-reliance and informality also come to the fore, as they leverage natural propensities towards use of technology, creativity and flexibility.

  1. Millennials (also known as Generation-Y)

Born in or after 1981, these workers could almost use computers before they could walk.

They want meaning in their life and work, and cherish diversity, new skills and immediate access to information. Optimism, innovation, confidence and creativity underpin their activities.

You gotta cater for everyone

Different project management applications have developed functionality to address common requirements across all four generations.

Although we are told that variety is the spice of life, it is also a potential source of conflict. People may not be able to relate to others whose thought processes differ, while project management methods that suit one personality type may grate with another.

Anyone who has experienced team dynamics knows how much a balancing act can be involved in getting productivity to fire on all cylinders.

Traditionalists may be flabbergasted because they perceive Generation-X workers’ informality as a lack of respect of authority. Millennials may be bemused by the insistence of Baby Boomers to proceed rigorously step by step instead of using a little productive multi-tasking.

Project management applications that are confined to waterfall-only or agile-only approaches may simply discourage half the team from using them.

However the ‘5 Ts’ (transparency, teamwork, trust, tools and transformation) are essential ingredients for good project interworking, whatever age ranges are involved. Different applications address these critical elements in project management and as collaboration tools.

Fact or Fiction?

It is no use investing in project management tools simply to satisfy myths. For example, it would be a mistake to assume that older employees are less tech-savvy.

Microsoft Project research showed that Baby Boomers, for instance, embraced technology just as readily as Echo Boomers (or Millennials, by their other name). And the traditionalist segment is one of the fastest growing in terms of technology take-up.

Liquid Planner points out that Baby Boomers may be more possession (software licence) oriented and Millennials more subscription (cloud computing) oriented, but that both categories are aware of the advantages of appropriate technology to help them work better.

Likewise, the concept of team members self-selecting tasks instead of having tasks imposed on them goes far beyond the independence attitude of Generation-X. Each generation can be just as willing to join in this process.

The difference is rather in the type of tasks they select. More mature and experienced project team members might prefer tasks with a higher profile and longer duration, where younger employees possibly favour tasks that give results directly.

AtTask facilitates task selection by team members for this reason. Task management apps also have their own ways of accommodating different attitudes in different age groups.

Mindsets for multi-generation project management

Three mindsets can help managers get the most out of a quadri-generational situation:

  1. Head to the Cloud

This immediately opens the door to a shared platform for enhanced co-operation and collaboration. The lasting advantage lies in yielding better results with fewer resources.

  1. Use transparency for a unified way forward

Generations often agree readily on what to do – the differences of opinion are usually about the way to do it. Technology that lets individual members as well as the whole team see what’s going on, and how their contribution is helping, can accommodate different styles without compromising end-results.

  1. Liberate through technology

Make technology serve your goals of a cohesive, productive product team, not the other way round. In doing so, leave flexibility in the equation so that team members can be as ‘plugged in’ or ‘unplugged’ as they want, as long as the overall result is improved.

Working together today

Whether or not each member wants a positive collaboration is unlikely to be a function of their age group. What is likely to change between generations, however, is the time each one is prepared to allow for such a relationship to form.

Traditionalists and Baby Boomers may be more generous, and Gen-Xers and Millennials less patient.

See how you can now keep the different communications channels open through collaborative project management applications to help each project team member to reach his or her own collaboration Nirvana.

Remember: free project management software trials are available for many apps, enabling all generations to try before they buy!

Avinoam Nowogrodski is the founder and CEO of Clarizen, leader in enterprise-class work collaboration and project management solutions that harness the power of the cloud to get work done efficiently, effectively and with better results. Fast to deploy and easy to use, Clarizen is redefining enterprise collaboration by connecting social context with tasks and projects to drive increased productivity and profitability. Clarizen fuels the high-performance teams of more than 2,300 organisations across 76 countries, including Australia and New Zealand. Dozens of the Fortune 500 companies use Clarizen’s solutions.

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