Employee Engagement

Managing Millennials: 5 Common Issues Leaders Face

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Managing teams is hard, but managing teams of diverse ages and experience levels can be even harder. A popular tool for managers is Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. The book outlines five common ways teams fail, but it doesn’t directly address managing different ranges of experience and age. With the spotlight on millennials and the increasing impact they have on the workforce, it’s important to consider how generational differences can impact a team.

To address the critical differences in generations, the IBM Institute of Business Value (IBV) published a study on millennials (aged 21-34), gen x (aged 35-49) and baby boomers (aged 50-60). We’ll apply data from that study to the following dysfunctions to see how generations are impacted by common team problems.

Dysfunction #1: Absence of Trust

Specifically related to vulnerability and a fear of asking for help, this dysfunction is characterized by an inability to admit mistakes and share challenges. It’s easy to have a positive team environment when goals are met and things are going well. It’s much harder to encourage honesty when performance isn’t meeting standards. A lack of trust among team members can stifle any attempts to reach out for help.

Generations play a large role in this dysfunction. There is a natural tendency for those who are newer in their careers (millennials) to be more open with their challenges and willing to seek the advice of peers. In contrast, the IBV study found that only 39 percent of baby boomers feel compelled to include others in their decisions. To balance this disparity, it’s critical to create an environment of sharing to ensure there is trust among all members of the team, including senior members.

 Dysfunction #2: Fear of Conflict

Even teams with a Jack Byrnes-rated circle of trust avoid conflict. Conflict relies on mutual respect so that team members trust their peers enough to see conflict as an indicator passion and not a personal assault. If a team is fully engaged and working as a group, conflict becomes a tool to challenge decisions in order to ensure the team is moving in the right direction.

The IBV study found that, “Baby Boomers accustomed to making decisions on their own may find it difficult to shift to a more collaborative culture, which can cause tension between older and younger employees.” Setting a culture of conflict is key to helping a team move past this dysfunction.

Dysfunction #3: Lack of Commitment

Regardless of what decision is made and who may disagree, the whole team has to support it and run towards it. Just like meeting for lunch or scheduling happy hour, you can only have one decision or the plans will fall through. A goal cannot be achieved if half the team doesn’t agree to aggressively work at it.

Gen x-ers are the most likely to believe it is important to seek consensus on group decisions. Only 41 percent of baby boomers believe that an organization’s leaders are the most qualified to make decisions. As a manager, it’s important to pay attention to those who disagreed with team decisions to ensure they are supportive once a decision is made. It’s also critical to be aware of differences in team behavior when a decision comes from management versus the team.

Dysfunction #4: Avoidance of Accountability

Also known as a team not being “all in,” this dysfunction builds upon the need for teams to agree and then move forward in unison. This goes beyond individual team member accountability for their work; it addresses team collaboration at its core. Everyone needs to be engaged and supporting each other for a team to succeed.

Sixty-five percent of gen x-ers and 55 percent of millennials inherently believe employees should be rewarded for sharing information. Whether helping each other achieve more or meeting targets, it’s important to promote this positive view of sharing. Collaboration is the only way to capitalize on the collective knowledge and experience of a team.

 Dysfunction #5: Inattention to Results

The success of the team must mean success for the team members. Just like employees need to set their personal goals, teams need to strive for common goals in order to be successful. If team members are achieving their own goals before the team’s goals, there is an inattention to results. Team first or “we” before “me” is the only way to truly succeed and stay accountable to each other. This can be a hard attitude to maintain when each team member has their own motives, aspirations and egos.

Once again, gen x leads the three groups with a positive belief on team-first attitude. Sixty-four percent of gen x-ers believe if a team is successful then everyone should be rewarded. This is compared to 45 percent of baby boomers. Millennials are neutral on this topic at 55 percent believing that everyone should be rewarded.

Views on management

Across all three generations, transparency, ethical and fair behavior, and dependable and consistent management were the most important attributes of a manager. However, there was a clear disparity in how well managers from gen x feel they connect with their employees versus their employees’ responses. Seventy-two percent of gen x leaders thought they recognized their employees’ accomplishments but only 38 percent of baby boomers agreed. Likewise, 69 percent of gen x leaders thought they inspired confidence, while only 56 percent of millennials agreed. Managers need to stay highly engaged with their teams to get an accurate view of the team environment.

Beliefs and attitudes of different generations of workers need to be taken into consideration when building a team that will collaborate and achieve together. Read more about millennials, gen x-ers and baby boomers in the IBV study, Myths, exaggerations and uncomfortable truths, and learn more about Patrick Lencioni’s book here.


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