Leadership—Managing Multigenerational Teams

Transcript

Narrator

The future of project management is changing fast. On Projectified with PMI, we’ll help you stay on top of the trends and see what’s really ahead for the profession—and your career.

For an easy way to stay up to date on Projectified with PMI, go to iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play music or PMI.org/podcast.

Stephen W. Maye

Hello, I'm Stephen Maye, and this is Projectified with PMI. I'm here with my co-host, Tegan Jones, and in this episode we’re talking about what it takes to effectively manage multigenerational teams.

We’ve heard a lot about how Millennials have reshaped the workforce over the past few years, and now there’s a new generation—often known as Gen Z—that’s making its mark. As they start to enter the workforce en masse, more organizations are looking for creative ways to recruit and engage these young professionals while still respecting the work styles of older, more experienced team members.

Tegan Jones

These generational groups can always be a little bit difficult to nail down, but when we’re talking about Gen Z, we’re generally referring to people who were born between the mid-1990s and the late-2000s. They’re digital natives who’ve lived basically their entire lives online. So that means that they’ve developed some different communication styles, some different preferences, than some of their peers who built their careers in a more analog world.  

Of course, it’s important not to get too caught up in generalizations, but there is some data to back this up. For instance, a recent study by Randstad, which is a Dutch HR firm, found that this communication disconnect is really a global issue. Four out of five workers worldwide say that the main difference that comes with working on a multigenerational team is the range of communication styles that they have to deal with. And nearly a third say that they struggle to communicate with coworkers from a different age group.

Stephen W. Maye

This is really where good management comes into play. If you really know the people you lead, you’ll be far better equipped to help them overcome these types of communication hurdles. 

Tegan Jones

And if you’re leading a team with a lot of young people, that type of personal attention can be especially important. This is something that we heard from Ilinca Rolea, who is a junior project manager from the IT firm Cameo Global in Belgium. She’ll talk about the kind of support she’s looking for from her managers a little bit later in the show. 

Stephen W. Maye

We’re also going to look at some strategies for getting young people in the door. Especially in the tech sector, it’s a candidate’s market—and companies are competing to attract the best and brightest young talent.

This is something I recently discussed with Manny Ventura, who’s leading the business operations PMO at Slack in the Bay Area. He’s worked in Silicon Valley for years and shares his thoughts on how to attract and empower young people.

Tegan Jones

But first, let’s hear from Andy Almenara, who is the PMO head at Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service in Sydney. He says proactive planning is what helps keep his multigenerational team firing on all cylinders.

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Tegan Jones

Sparking collaboration across age groups is part art, part science. It starts with getting people to speak candidly, says Andy Almenara. And that means acknowledging the elephant in the room: that people from different generations often prefer to work in different ways. 

Andy Almenara

I think, without trying to sound too generalistic, older generations tend to prefer face-to-face communication, which can often lead to better interpersonal engagement, but it can also lead to some inefficiency due to the need for more meetings. I find that younger team members are more inclined to want to communicate as efficiently as possible, so they all want to utilize messaging tools and apps, which absolutely drives better efficiency, but this can also sometimes be ineffective, as tone of message can sometimes be misconstrued when it’s all via text communication.

Tegan Jones

And when it’s time to brainstorm, Andy has to make sure both enthusiastic newcomers and seasoned veterans feel like their voices are being heard.

Andy Almenara

I typically find that younger team members are the ones that are more inclined to want to regularly put forward new ideas that may challenge the status quo, and this sometimes can be responded to by older team members who may tend to become quite analytical in these situations, with some of them even relishing that opportunity to really play the devil’s advocate. So, I think this is where the leader of the team has a really important role to play because if these situations aren’t facilitated well by the team leader, then it can actually lead to conflict or frustration or perhaps even resentment amongst team members.

Tegan Jones

Andy says setting clear expectations upfront is the key to maintaining a positive work environment. So at the outset of each new initiative, he works with the team to put together a customized charter.

Andy Almenara

So, I think in terms of setting the team charter, basically what that looks like is getting the team together, discussing what their goals, their wants, their likes, their needs are, having the conversation where you get everything on the table, and then as a group collectively you establish, so how are we going to operate as a team and what are the behaviors that we all agree to that are going to be required in order for us to navigate what we need to navigate successfully and be able to reach those outcomes, you know, achieve those common goals that have now been called out. I think by setting that team charter early, it also effectively almost creates a bit of a binding contract for everybody in terms of the behaviors that they’re now taking responsibility for, that they will hold not only themselves to account for, but also that they are going to hold each other to account.

And I think by doing that, when people get a bit stressed or the work becomes a little bit more pressured, conflicts can arise, and being able to refer back to agreed behaviors that you established, you know, when the project was perhaps more in peace time, as a way to put it, is a really powerful leveraging tool, because it allows you to address that, refer back to that and say, "Listen, I really thought that this is how we were going to behave. This is what we agreed upfront." And that usually can help, I find, diffuse a lot of that conflict early on.

Tegan Jones

But building bridges across age groups does more than just ease tensions. It can help the team become something greater than the sum of its parts.

Andy Almenara

I mean, ideally you want to empower a culture of innovation that also leverages the benefit of experience. It shouldn’t be an “either/or,” but rather an “and.” The aim is to achieve that culture of collaborative creativity where that useful enthusiasm is positively tempered and guided with sound judgment and context that can come from years of lessons learned.

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Tegan Jones

I really like that point that Andy made about outlining the rules of engagement at the beginning of a new project. Calling out and addressing personal communication preferences, outlining protocols, even getting it in writing, it seems like a great way to avoid conflict on the team.

Stephen W. Maye

It’s also smart to define point people for different areas in that early communication plan. That way the friendliest or most informed person isn’t always the one fielding every question. Plus, it can help showcase those areas where younger team members might have specialized skills or specialized knowledge that they can share with the rest of the team.

This actually reminds me of a radio interview that I listened to just recently. You may recall Cam Marston, who was one of the keynote speakers at PMI’s Global Conference last year in October. And Cam talked about multiple generations in the workplace. And on his radio show, What’s Working with Cam Marston, he did an interview talking about this, but specifically this concept of reverse mentoring. Have you come across this idea of reverse mentoring?

Tegan Jones

I’ve heard a little bit about it. It’s basically when younger team members kind of help teach older team members some skills that they may not have.

Stephen W. Maye

Yeah, it’s really what it sounds like, just as you described it. So, he was interviewing the CEO of BNY Mellon’s Pershing Advisor Solutions and a much younger team member that had served as a mentor to that CEO.

And they did this across their company. They’ve actually had over 100 millennials that have gone through this program and served as mentors to much more senior people and typically people that are considerably older.

The CEO was really ready to say, “Look, I learned a lot through this. I gain a window into a world I don’t know as much about, and I gain a kind of understanding about how a generation thinks and is motivated and things that influence them, the sources that they go to to be influenced, because that may not be within my normal sphere.”

And then in the broader sense, they talked about the fact that now with over 100 at this time, at the time of the interview, over 100 millennials had gone through this and served as mentors. They tracked them, and they had over a 95 percent retention rate among that group, which they considered to be a, you know, a wonderful benefit of the overall program. 

Tegan Jones

And these kind of programs that help you build connections across your organization, they really do help you break down some of those barriers and increase your comfort zone with talking to people that you work with that maybe you don’t know very well. And that kind of confidence is definitely something that young professionals struggle with. 

And that’s something we heard from our next guest, Ilinca Rolea, who is a junior ICT project manager with Cameo Global in Brussels. We recently talked about how her team—and specifically her team leader—helped her get up to speed in her first project management role.

Stephen W. Maye

I’m sure that’s something a lot of leaders are working toward on their teams. Let’s hear what she had to say. 

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Ilinca Rolea

Sometimes, being young and rather inexperienced, you can get overwhelmed by everything that you need to do, by the scope of the project. And also sometimes you might not really understand what is expected, the scope or the next steps that you need to take, especially in the technical field. As of course I’m not a technical expert, far from that, so sometimes I felt uncomfortable asking for help or for further clarifications during meetings, because if you have calls with more senior people you sometimes don’t feel very comfortable asking something that might be a silly question. 

That was a challenge for me at the beginning, and of course I realized that it doesn’t make me look incompetent if I ask questions, and it’s actually better to do it. It can save me a lot of time, and overall for the company time as well as money, asking for help at the earliest time possible.

Of course, if you don’t really understand the scope of the project you cannot really manage it. So in that sense I had a lot of help and guidance both from my team leader and also from the technical team. I asked them to give me, let’s say, an overview of the basics. We had some small training so that not only myself but all the PM team would improve their technical understanding.

I’m very happy with my team leader. Generally, I’m looking for someone that actually listens to what you have to say, so someone who has very good communication skills as well. So there is a way to build a relationship and build some kind of trust in between the two people. For me that’s very important, to be able to feel comfortable having an honest discussion and just giving my opinion.

Related to this, actually, would be just giving feedback—honest feedback. Even, no matter if it’s positive one or negative one, it’s always better to know what your manager is thinking. So, of course, if you’re doing great then it’s really good to hear it, so that you know that your performance is recognized. But then of course, if you’re not doing that well, even if you’re doing mistakes, then of course I think it’s still better to hear it in a nice way, and then you’re able to correct it. So, I’m looking for someone that actually supports you, that follows your progress.

So I like to have guidance and support, but at the same time, I do not like to be micromanaged, to be asked every ten minutes if I’ve done my tasks. So there should be definitely some kind of balance. But I think a manager that’s always a bit more interested in the members of the team, that’s better. Someone who is helping overall, both with personal and career development, so maybe discussing about opportunities for training or discussing the future, what positions might be available, what kind of roles would suit that person best, you know, how to be able to get there to get those positions. So there are, for me, this career-building effort. The communication and the feedback are the most important.

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Stephen W. Maye

There’s definitely a difference between being an attentive and supportive manager, and being a micromanager. And it’s a line that some leaders really struggle to walk.

Tegan Jones

I think the distinction Ilinca made about leaders who are really invested in their teams is a good litmus test to keep in mind. You know, are you actually checking in on that person? Or are you really just interested in the deadline?

Stephen W. Maye

Yeah, if you want people to be as productive as possible, you have to know what’s important to them and then do whatever you can to get them what they need. And of course Silicon Valley is notorious for offering some of the most off-the-wall perks and benefits to keep people happy. But it’s not all about nap pods and foosball tables. 

To find out what’s really attracting and retaining young project talent, I recently spoke with Manny Ventura. He’s the director of the business operations PMO for Slack in San Francisco.

Tegan Jones

Slack’s only been around for a few years, but I saw that it hit 10 million daily users in January. So I’m sure they’re always looking to add more smart people to the team. Let’s hear how they’re doing it.

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Stephen W. Maye

Manny, Silicon Valley companies famously have a reputation for attracting the best and the brightest young talent. What is that talent market right now? Are you seeing a high demand for young talent?

Manny Ventura

Yeah, Steven. Considering Silicon Valley remains the bubble of the tech industry, it remains pretty high. For the past several years it’s been really still a candidate’s market out there. There are practically more jobs than there are actually people to fill them here in this area.

Stephen W. Maye

What is this new generation of job candidates asking for? And do you see that as being different from what the generation before them was prioritizing?

Manny Ventura

Yeah it’s, you know, more so than just salary. I’ve found, in my experience, that young candidates are looking for either to land in a great reputable company or a really attractive startup here in the Bay Area with lots of potential. Also, particularly here in the Bay Area, they look at the location of the office, perks, benefits. And again because the extremely competitive nature or landscape, where there’s more jobs than candidates, companies have to offer creative perks to attract younger candidates. There are perks such as paid cell phone expenses, wellness stipends, professional development allowances, paid vacation, paid volunteer days and even DTO, which means discretionary time off. So those are just some other perks that young individuals, young talent, look for in companies.

Stephen W. Maye

How do the work style preferences vary among people of the different age groups that you’ve experienced on your teams? And of course, you’re at Slack now but you’ve been at a number of Silicon Valley companies over the last couple of decades—and not to date you by the way, Manny, but if you look at your significant experience with Silicon Valley companies and then up to and including the work you’re doing at Slack today, then how do you see those work style preferences varying among the different age groups?

Manny Ventura

In my experience, as you were referring to, it doesn’t really matter what age you are. What matters is what kind of personalities you have. I’ve found in both generations, seasoned or newbies, who are social, outgoing, are effective by managing more by walking around, by communicating in person. What I’ve also seen and experienced, both generations have more introverted personalities that are just as effective in working together with their peers. They’re more analytical. They communicate via email or messages, rather than in-person. But both seem to work. 

In general, I see that newbies are much more multi-tasking and collaborating. I mean, I’ve seen them switch from two screens off their laptop to their smart phones and back to laptops. Where in general, seasoned individuals are a little bit more focused, more immersed in what is the task they’re doing at hand. I think overall the key is having the ability to shift communication and collaboration styles among the different personalities. It’s about making that personal connection of how you work with your colleagues the best.

Stephen W. Maye

Yeah. Are there particular either techniques that you employ or even mindsets that you consciously bring to the work that allow you to accommodate these different styles?

Manny Ventura

For me it’s just finding that balance, finding the balance with the overall personalities and playing upon the individual strengths. It’s really about managing all the different personalities and, you know, just coming up with how can I pair up or how do I know which personalities complement each other regardless of generation, whether it’s seasoned or not.

It’s possible that the seasoned team members may want to measure twice, cut once, while newbies may want to ready, fire, aim. Right? And both of them have their advantages and disadvantages depending on the situation at hand. Neither one is a wrong approach. Ready, fire, aim may sound like it’s a bit brash, but they execute faster. Measure twice, cut once is a little bit more analytical, but yeah, the aim is to not have to do things again. And I’ve seen both ways where, regardless of generation, they work depending on what we need to get done. And just being aware.

Stephen W. Maye

So Manny, when you think about the challenge and opportunity that you’ve been describing with the different generations of the workplace, what are some of the interpersonal skills that one needs to really be effective, to flex and be effective, at keeping everybody happy and everybody working productively?

Manny Ventura

First of all, practice listening. I remember an adage that the words ‘silent’ and ‘listen’ is comprised of the same exact letters. And I continue to remind myself of that when I catch myself drifting when someone’s talking to me. And once absorbed, take a second to reply, rather than jumping in to try to respond before they even finish. So I try to clarify what they say. Basically, this is active listening 101.

Second is practice compassionate management. Get to a point where understanding where an individual is coming from is key to understanding what motivates them. Showing empathy, but also be direct.

Another quote that I just recently heard is ‘clarity is kindness.’ And a lot of companies have used that with regard to just ensuring that being direct is not offensive. It’s something that, being clear shows that you care. And, I mean the bottom line is we’re all adults here, so let’s treat each other like adults and foster a culture of trust. In fact, I believe that there’s one more level that teams can graduate to, and that’s called a culture of dependency. I trust that you can do your job. That’s why you’re on the team. The next level of culture is I depend on you doing your role, for the sake or best interest of the team and thus the company.

Stephen W. Maye

How do you encourage collaboration? So, you’ve managed a lot of teams. You continue to be involved in teams today. So how do you encourage team members to really collaborate in a truly productive way and build on each other’s strengths?

Manny Ventura

Sure. You encourage by doing. By recognizing all of my team members’ strengths, I try and share that recognition among all team members. If a member is amazing at spreadsheets and macros and pivot tables, I’ll let the team know that and encourage them to learn from that individual.

Another key thing that I try to do is to provide constant and frequent feedback. I don’t wait until the annual review. I mean, how can one be good at providing feedback when you only do it once a year? So, just for a manager and for leaders to get into habit of providing that constant feedback, going back to ‘clarity is kindness’ is really something that I strive to do as well as encourage my managers to do that, so that this is constant acknowledgement process.

I think that there’s no such thing as good feedback or bad feedback; it’s just feedback. I know it just depends on people’s perspective, but if people get to the mindset that feedback is feedback, then that’s a good thing.

Stephen W. Maye

So finally, Manny, you’ve been incredibly generous with your experience and insights, particularly around your experience with Silicon Valley companies. But I want to give you one more opportunity here. So what advice would you have for another project leader or project professional who might be struggling to attract or engage young project talent? What’s the top of your list for advice to those people?

Manny Ventura

One thing that is interesting is, have you ever watched the movie The Intern, with Anne Hathaway and Robert De Niro?

Stephen W. Maye

You know, I must confess: I don’t believe I have seen it.

Manny Ventura

Basically it’s about an executive who owned a Yellow Pages company, who was Robert De Niro. And he became an intern to Anne Hathaway, who was a CEO of an up-and-coming startup, a fashion retail startup business. And just remembering that movie, and just how the younger generation interact with Robert De Niro, is a good light movie to watch to just get an example of how the younger generation and older generation can work together.

The lesson is: they can. They can learn from each other, and as a leader, it’s important for us to foster that kind of culture of learning from the two generations.

Stephen W. Maye

So the top of the advice list is: watch The Intern. Watch The Intern!

Manny Ventura

Watch The Intern. Exactly.

Stephen W. Maye

But in addition to that, foster a culture of learning, and practice learning all the time ourselves. And with that, Manny Ventura, PMP and director of business operations PMO at Slack in San Francisco, has the last word. Manny, it’s been a pleasure talking with you. Thank you for being on today.

Manny Ventura

My pleasure, Stephen. Thank you.

Narrator

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