Teambuilding with Multiple Generations

With four generations spanning our government workforce, many have asked- how can we level all generations and skills to build successful teams and make government better? Leaders in government, young and old, come from all walks of life. Government’s challenge is to harness the diverse skillset, listen to all perspectives, and help generations work together.

Joanie Newhart (Associate Administrator for acquisition in the Office of Management and Budget) and Deadra Welcome (Branch Chief in the Field Training & Career Development Office at the US Census Bureau) both agreed that whether you’re the intern or the manager, that shouldn’t define you as a leader. You can lead from any level in government and still contribute valuable work.

In a breakout session at Tuesday’s Next Generation of Government Training Summit, Newhart and Welcome addressed the following questions pertaining to teambuilding with multiple generations:

What are the biggest pressure points between the different generations?

  •  Technology- Millennials tend to be more tech savvy and tech-dependent. However, everyone is getting used to having information readily available. It’s not just up to millennials to do the tech work. Every generation is learning to use technology effectively and it’s important to draw on other strengths and expertise from millennials.
  • Different perspectives– It’s difficult to find commonalities when a team is comprised of employees from completely different backgrounds. Both Newhart and Welcome advised the audience to embrace cross-generational perspectives. Find the similarities and collaborate amongst your teams.
  • Communication differences– Some employees prefer in-person staff meetings while others prefer communication via device. Baby boomers have a reputation for micromanaging, which can be very intimidating, while millennials have a reputation for under-communicating by using online modes. Embrace both in-person and online means of communication. Having multiple generations in the office means multiple ways to get the message across and get the job done.

What are some tips for cross-generational teams to work together?

  • Manage fairly, not uniformly- It’s not necessarily about you or your preferred management styles. As a leader or manager, learn how each individual on your team likes to communicate and try to meet each person on that level. She may prefer personal check-ins, or maybe check-ins via email. Some like daily 15 minute stand up meetings or SCRUMS that take care of informing everyone of project updates. Understanding how your employees prefer to work will not only make you a better manager, but also will improve productivity and efficiency.
  • Don’t assume you need experience to make a difference– Millennials have the challenge of being the younger generation and learning the ropes in government. This can be intimidating when working with other employees with years of experience and knowledge. While it’s important to respect more experienced counterparts, older generations, like baby boomers sometimes promote the idea that experience and tenure is the only way to add value to a government agency. Whether an intern or a seasoned veteran, every individual has an important and valuable role to your workplace and to government. Treat everyone in your office with that same level of deference.
  • Encourage people to learn from each other– Baby boomer employees know how government works and how it sometimes doesn’t work and have years of wisdom and insight to share. As a younger professional, it’s important to glean experience from older counterparts. However, even older generations can learn from younger ones. Millennials bring fresh ideas and optimism to an organization and should not be easily dismissed as “inexperienced.” Encourage your teams to learn from one another, regardless of age and experience. This makes everyone feel valued.

What are some pitfalls to avoid?

  • Inflexibility– Be open to change. Often, older generations tend to use the tagline, “This is how we’ve always done it.” Try and use different ideas from fresh perspectives to look at your problems or processes again and reevaluate. You may find there’s a better way to do things than the way they’ve always been done.
  • Lack of Knowledge Sharing– Government is facing an incoming tidal wave of retirement. Despite this fact, many baby boomers seem reluctant to pass on information and knowledge to younger generations for fear of being replaced. Phased retirement, where one works part time and mentors an individual is not as appealing as working full time or retiring altogether. However, the next generation has to be ready to lead, one way or another. Newhart and Welcome suggested having strong succession planning. Make both older and younger employees feel needed by encouraging open discussion and capture advice from older employees via document or video to improve knowledge sharing.
  • Forgetting your mobile workforce– Don’t waste people’s time with unnecessary meetings. Have meetings if there’s a decision to make or important work to be done. This is especially important for employees that cannot be in the office. Keep your mobile workforce just as engaged as those onsite. Use a clear mission and keep a clear focus about organizational goals and ideas.


From July 20th – 21st we’ll be blogging from GovLoop and YGL’s Next Generation of Government Training Summit. Follow along @NextGenGov and read more blog posts here.


Photo Credit: Flickr/Flower Factor

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