In the past few months — roughly since hoards of new college graduates arrived in the workplace — my friends who manage multi-age groups have been horrified by the bad behavior that begins on day one. The Boomers bristle and whisper and the Millennials go limp. The latter don’t self introduce and show no interest in their older colleagues. They immediately allign with their peers. Self interest might suggest new hires seek information on organizational culture but they don’t. What’s a manager to do to bring the group together just enough to get the job done? Here are four phrases which, if repeated often enough, will cut some of the posturing on both sides.
“Work it out.” The more you intervene to resolve problems and make decisions the more both sides will depend on intervention. If you put the responsibility back on the combatants they will work it out. Intervene once in 30 times, not one in five.
“Who’s in charge of providing feedback?” Doyou want to waste time filtering the grapevine or force everyone to say what he or she thinks openly? Too many Boomers worry about being too “direct.” Direct is better, less political, and lets problems be solved as they occur. Insist that feedback be just that, not criticism. If I say, “I really didn’t like that approach,” that is criticism. If I say, “I would suggest you start the paragraph with the third sentence and arrange the rest of the facts under that,” that is helpful feedback.
“How can we make this less work for everyone?” If some people are working harder, and some less hard it may be that the former don’t know the shortcuts. Make the faster workers share. This is an important exercise in proper team behavior as well as a learning opportunity — speaking of which anyone who comes up with shortcuts of any kind gets a round of applause. Letting people work harder than they need to is not going to build team spirit. (Both Boomers and Millennials do this but in different ways.)
“What’s the next step and who’s leading that effort?” Anointing a leader may seem like a good idea. It worked in the Bible. In real life, not as well. Getting a volunteer means no one can come back and say, “I don’t know why I as appointed. I am not a leader.” If you knew how many team players want only to be followers you’d discover how rare those willing to take charge are.
If there were perfect techniques for smoothing over differences in values every manager would use them. There aren’t. Still, a desire to experiment and discard what doesn’t work makes the manager’s life easier. This is the opposite of managers who say that everyone needs to “get with the program.” Fat chance!
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