between co-workers,” says Mr. D’Imperio. “That preconception blocked the
dialogue.” So he played mediator between the teammates—and learned that
the younger employee was simply itching to gain experience in another specialty, which the older employer was happy to train him
in. “Nowadays, he’s one of the best,” says Mr. D’Imperio.
Seeing the Light Side
While most project managers would frown upon their
teams watching television on the clock, Conrado Morlan,
PMP, PgMP, used to set up meetings for just that purpose
at global logistics company DHL, Dallas, Texas, USA.
“Sitcom clips can be a great way to address team
issues,” he says.
For instance, he once played a clip from the NBC sitcom Outsourced for his team members, who range in age
from 20 to 70. The now-cancelled show chronicled the trials of Todd, a young man from the United States who runs
a call center in India. In the episode, Todd absentmindedly
taps a female colleague’s shoulder, an uncommon gesture
among Indians that makes the woman squirm.
“Your actions may be innocuous, but they could be
making others uncomfortable,” Mr. Morlan says. Starting
the dialogue from that humorous scenario made it easier
to bridge to a conversation about communication styles
between junior and senior team members.
“Older colleagues wanted formal, structured reports,
and younger ones were sending bits and pieces of information, like hyperlinks,” he says.
After watching Outsourced, the team worked together
to lay out ground rules on how to structure written com-
munications. “We were able to appreciate everyone’s
different style,” he says, “which let us work together and
Setting expectations for meetings can also help smooth over generational
differences, Mr. Morlan says. When a younger team member pulled out his
mobile phone to look for an answer to a question that arose, a senior stake-
holder later complained about the perceived social gaffe.
“A behavior that seems negative to one person is simply the way another
is used to working,” says Mr. Morlan. But airing the slight at a team meeting
helped nip friction in the bud. “Everyone has a common objective: getting the
job done,” he says. The team agreed to adopt a new rule: Leave your computer
and mobile out of meetings, unless you notify everyone ahead of time that you
need to use them.
Focus as much on the upside as the potential conflict of working across
generations, Mr. Morlan notes. He asks younger colleagues to keep him up to
speed on emerging technologies, and in exchange offers them advice on project complexities.
“Learning should be a two-way street, even when it’s not formal and structured,” he says. “Sometimes the younger teammates would coach the older
ones, without even being aware they were doing it. And the older ones would
come away and say, ‘I really learned something.’” PM
“A behavior that
seems negative to
one person is simply
the way another is
used to working.
Everyone has a
getting the job done.