Do you realize that there are people representing at least four generations in any given workplace right now? How does that impact a team’s ability to work and communicate effectively together?

Jim and Susan work on the Quality team at a large manufacturing company. Jim is 57 years old and has been with the company for 22 years. Susan is 28 years old and has been there for two years. They regularly butt heads at team meetings and are causing a lot of tension within the group. Most recently, Jim has commented that Susan won’t put her Blackberry down long enough to listen to anyone. Meanwhile, Susan steams that Jim is a dinosaur who holds everyone back with his refusal to use the newest technology to communicate with the team.

Whew!

If you will indulge my sweeping generalizations for a moment, I would postulate that every generation has distinct ideas about modes of communication as well as attitudes that dictate what values tend to be most important to their group. And of course, there are as many exceptions to both of those generalizations as there are exceptions to the rules that govern proper use of the English language! 

What would benefit both the overall Quality team as well as Jim and Susan as individuals would be an opportunity for the two of them to sit down and talk (preferably without any sort of electronic devices present). Three things should happen in that conversation.

  • Jim and Susan should both have the opportunity to express their concerns/frustrations/complaints. As much as possible, this should be done using “I feel…” statements to avoid hostile accusations.
  • Jim and Susan should both engage in active listening with each other. This entails mirroring back to the one speaking what you have heard them say. This allows you to demonstrate that you are indeed hearing them and their concerns, as well as allowing them the chance to correct anything that you may have misheard or misunderstood.
  • Finally, Jim and Susan would benefit greatly from establishing some ground rules by which they are both willing to abide. These ground rules should be as simple as possible. They should dictate how they will behave towards each other in order to achieve greater team success. Also, Jim and Susan should establish clear lines of accountability so that should a ground rule be violated in one’s opinion, the course of action to remedy the problem is clear.

Having multiple generations working together in the work place can be a tremendous asset to a company and a team! It doesn’t have to be a source of pain and conflict. Each generation brings something important to the table. If we can understand our differences and appreciate what each one has to offer, then we can move towards finding the opportunities to achieve greater success.

Ellen Patnaude

Ellen Patnaude is Vice President of Instruction for the Northeast region. She is based in Detroit, Michigan, but she also teaches in Chicago, Cincinnati, Columbus, Toronto, Baltimore and other Northeast cities.

Interested in a Team Building Event of Your Own?