Leading an effective team means not only getting to know the personalities but also their generations and the impact that has on behaviors, attitudes, and expectations.

Some time ago, I was approached to take an immediate and indefinite position as a replacement for a team leader who had suddenly gone on sick leave. Being parachuted into a leadership position is never an easy task. You need to scope the terrain. You need your leadership skills to provide the overhead canopy that will control your descent and land you on firm ground with your feet beneath.

The group that I was asked to lead had five individuals with a complete spectrum of ages, abilities, interests, and relevant work experience. In similar situations, I’ve always set personal priorities. To get a cohesive, functioning team, I always want to get to know the individuals and build an understanding of their strengths before commencing teamwork. To that end, I’ve deliberately made my office space warm and inviting to meet with team members on a one-on-one basis. This has always helped me establish a professional, yet relaxed relationship with other staff. However, my first meetings didn’t bode well for establishing a functional relationship between either myself and team individuals, or between the members of the group itself.

Learn the team dynamics
The oldest member of the group had been with the company for more than a quarter of a century. “Eileen” was only too happy to have a new set of ears to hear her numerous list of complaints. She had seen a frequent succession of team leaders, who had less experience and were often far younger than she was. Eileen had been passed over for promotion and resented that fact deeply as she frequently worked overtime and on weekends. She was particularly critical of the work ethics of others on the team.

At the other end of the age spectrum were “Tasha” and “Kent,” our casual workers. Both were in their mid twenties and highly competitive. Their eagerness to outshine the other was due, in part, to their quest for permanent positions. Ironically, I quickly found out that they were meeting socially at least a couple of times a week, as they were frequently in conversation working out details of the latest social gathering.

The rest of the team included “Shauna,” who was a single mother in her late thirties, and “Stephanie,” who was slightly older. Stephanie was married to an airline pilot and her domestic arrangements revolved around his schedule. Both women were competent in their jobs when not on their cellphones attending to frequent family matters. These disruptions were another source of discontent to Eileen who resented their perceived priorities. Her way of handling displeasure was to mutter and sigh, audibly, and her disparaging looks were numerous.

How could I turn this motley crew into a co-operative, task-oriented team. How could I support each person to build on his or her strengths?

Understanding the Generation Gap
Baby Boomers, as I had recently learned, were children born during the post-war years up until approximately 1964. Eileen fit into this age category. The more I read about Baby Boomers, the more I wondered if I could gain insight into Eileen’s behaviors. Baby Boomers typically have a strong work ethic, to the extent that they find it difficult to get a home and work balance. Eileen? Check.

Boomers are disciplined, team-oriented, have a strong sense of community, and will voice their opinions if something violates their personal perspectives and values. Check. Another Baby Boomer trait that characterized Eileen was that she was not a “digital native.” She saw herself as the senior on the team and wanted the others to seek her advice but had difficulty in requesting help for herself with new programs or technology.

Closing the Gap
A major impediment to creating a functioning team, in this case, was the malcontent of Eileen. She felt that her abilities weren’t being recognized. So, we had a team meeting. As a new member, I let them know that I didn’t know the team history. I pointed out the sterling service that Eileen had provided throughout the years and asked the team members to refer to her expertise and job experience. I pointed out that Shauna and Stephanie were very competent in their jobs and got their assigned tasks completed and praised them for having a commendable work and home balance. Our two Millennials also had praiseworthy expertise, and I requested that they help the team with programming and technology troubleshooting.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I saw subtle changes that made our workplace function more efficiently and happily. Eileen still had occasional grumbles, but she was happy when her opinion about previous projects was sought. Shauna and Stephanie, our Generation Xers felt at ease dealing with home problems while at work, and Tasha and Kent worked miracles in anticipating and fixing any technology problems that came up. It was almost comic seeing them rushing to be the first to help Eileen with digital uncertainties. I knew that we were on firm ground indeed when Eileen came in one morning with doughnuts and coffee, a first that would be repeated a number of times.

The takeaway here is that leading an effective team means getting to know not just its members but also their generations and the impact of that generation on workplace expectations and attitudes. A little research, thoughtfulness, and ingenuity will lead to a happier and more productive workplace. WPM
Milena Santoro, CWP™ MS Productions, Canada and Italy