The Invisible Side of Different Generations in Project Teams

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Categories: Generational PM

Generation X represents the majority of members in project teams around the world. (The exact date range of this generation varies, but for the purpose of this post, it is those born in the 1960s through the early 1980s).

These team members are potential candidates to transition to higher ranks once their senior project managers and program managers are ready to retire.

Veteran project managers and program managers who are close to retirement are looking for the right successor. But that can be challenging because of the divergence of values among generations.

Cultural and generational beliefs and behaviors have both "visible" and "invisible" components.
Visible elements of beliefs and behaviors are easy to observe and represent the 'what' of cultures and generations. For example, baby boomers are confident, independent and self-reliant, and those from the Silent generation are disciplined and loyal.

The invisible part is not easy to observe and represents the 'why' of cultures and generations. It holds values, beliefs, attitudes and assumptions that are a result of shared experiences.
During Generation X's childhood years, in the mid 60's and 70's, there was an intense competition between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union. This competition influenced people to strive towards their country goal and fostered teamwork.
The competition between countries included fields like economy, politics, science and sports. Generation X was born into, and grew up in this competitive environment. They have taken their culture and spirit to the workplace and positively impact project teams with their pragmatism, competence and technological savvy.

In my opinion, project managers and team members of different generations need to look on the invisible side of their beliefs and values to understand each other and avoid stereotyping and creating the wrong perception.
As a project manager, what would you say is the main contribution of Gen X team members?  What other invisible factors had a positive effect for generations now in the workforce?   

Posted by Conrado Morlan on: October 21, 2011 11:40 AM | Permalink

Comments (3)

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Kathy Lisiewicz
I'm not sure I entirely agree with your assessment of how culture and history have influenced this generation; Generation X has a strong independent streak, fostered by what we see as the betrayal of (and by) systems.

Here's how I think that has influenced project teams: We're willing to be part of a team, and to play an active role as either contributors or leaders. But we don't believe that every workgroup is a team, because we know that real teams have authority. Too often, a manager says, "We're forming a project team. Do exactly as the organization says. Don't make any independent decisions about the project."

Generation X knows that's not what project teams are supposed to be about. If a manager presents a workgroup to us as a team, we see that as another betrayal by a system.

I once told my Baby Boomer supervisor, "I don't think my role should be called 'Team Leader.' We're not a team, and I have no authority to lead. I should be called 'Workgroup Facilitator'."

What was sad was that she didn't really seem to understand how demoralizing it can be to be called something you aren't, even if it "sounds" better. And she was one of my best bosses.

Hi Kathy, Please see these other posts on project managers as facilitators:

Conrado Morlan
Thank you for your comments.

The working environment and cultural organization also influence multigenerational teams.

Based on my experience working with multigenerational teams I had observed the following in terms of :

• Hierarchy and authority: Gen Xers feel more comfortable working in non-authoritarian workplace and believe that rules are dynamic and should be set by individuals rather than institutions..

• Personal and Work Time: Gen Xers are committed to their job assignments but want to be in control of their career path looking to balance their personal and work time.

Your comments reflect what I have seen while working with other Gen Xers in the US and other parts of the world.

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