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Management for All Ages: How to Better Lead Your Multigenerational Team

Derek Matthews, Ph.D.

The current workplace is full of multigenerational workers that each approach their work differently. Here's how to best handle it.

I was reading MBA@UNC’s “A Guide to Leading the Multigenerational Workforce,” when I made a startling realization: The modern workplace is in a funky growth spurt.

Think about the people you encounter on a daily basis. Your boss may be younger than you.

Your coworkers may be an intergenerational amalgamation of good ole Traditionalists, productivity-conscious Baby Boomers, and Instagram-savvy Millennials.

In a quick Google search, one may find a plethora of varying opinions on how five generations under one roof are affecting productivity, culture, and basic efficacy of teamwork.

As a result, many leaders are seeking guidance to develop a plan to harmonize the impending generational divide across their organization. While Google may provide overwhelming results on how to lead generational unity, this article seeks to provide two simple tips to reel in your team to work together regardless of age.

These two tips to harmonize your intergenerational team include:

  1. Find Intergenerational Intersections 
  2. Develop a trickle down coaching model

Find Intergenerational Intersections 

Every generation is shaped by shared societal events, which mold perspective and worldview.  As a result, generations as a whole begin to develop shared values on aspects of life such as work, family, friendship, money, and beyond. For instance, the Traditionalist and Baby Boomer generation was drastically shaped by wars that were fought by economic superpowers such as the United States, Russia, Germany, and Japan.

These individuals were commanded by their country to fulfill their duty to serve in the military for the protection of their fellow citizens. These life events shaped this generation to find identity in duty at work. Therefore, this generation views work as duty, loyalty, obedience, and deterring from that perspective would effectively bastardize their values. This generation’s workplace expectations and values reflect these duty-centric sentiments. 

Now, let’s turn to the Millennial generation that was shaped by events such as the Enron scandal, 9/11, the Internet, and Columbine. These life experiences shaped the Millennial generation to develop trust issues with oligarchical institutions and as a result, they search for personal meaning as their motivational institutional context.

Millennials certainly “crave meaningful work where they feel part of the organization’s mission, and value helping others” (MBA@UNC). To make matters even more complicated, the Gen Xer’s are sandwiched in between these two polar opposite generations trying to make logical sense of this value system dichotomy. 

These diverse generations view work, projects, and work-related issues through a drastically different lens. It is in this conceptual dichotomy that true leaders can harness the power of each generation’s perspective intersections. If life events shape perspective, and perspective adds value to solving everyday organizational issues, then why aren’t leaders leveraging their intergenerational workforce to collaboratively innovate their workplace through these varying perspectives? 

In The Medici Effect, author Frans Johansson covers the concept of intersections, or the power that different perspectives create when converged together. Breakthroughs tend to occur when people from different backgrounds, walks, and talks combine perspective. Leaders that can harmonize and blend varying intergenerational perspectives such as values, expectations, and worldviews into actionable ideas will effectively harness the benefits of the modern organizational workplace. It is the point that intergenerational differences converge that true innovation begins to flourish. 

Action Plan

The MBA@UNC guide suggests creating programs that rally different generations to work together.  For example, create a ‘Cocktail Cohort’ of intergenerational teams that get together on a monthly basis to talk about life, leadership, and the workplace experience. This doesn’t have to be too formulaic, just let the relationships blossom. Let their differences organically find a way into the conversation. This rich dialogue in a casual setting will develop bonds and help your team bond in a fun way. 

Develop a Trickle Down Coaching Model

Coaching is a hot topic amongst business professionals because our culture is witnessing a growing value in the power of the coaching conversation. Coaching, not to be confused with mentoring, is the art of asking powerful questions to help build the capacity in others. 

Contrarily, mentoring is providing perspective through giving answers to others. The true benefit of coaching is the multiplying value a coach provides when equipping others to grow into autonomous leaders. 

If you are having intergenerational issues with your team, have you considered adopting a coaching model to furthermore share perspectives and unite your people?  A trickle down coaching model creates coaching conversations chain-linked through the generations that represent your organization. With the mass exodus of Baby Boomers entering retirement, Millennials are called up to bat for leadership. 

However, Millennials are not prepared to lead; they are looking to their supervisors for guidance.  Millennials want to be coached by their manager more than any other generation.

Ironically, 46 percent of Millennials agree that their supervisor met their expectations for feedback frequency. This leaves a lot of room for managers to improve how much love and care they provide their coaching-hungry Millennials.  The graphic below offers some insight into how often Millennials want feedback from their managers compared with other generations.

graphic showing how often millennials want managerial feedback by Harvard Business Journal

Knowledge and experience transfer, through coaching, is important to preserve the legacy of your organization. Having more seasoned leaders coach their emerging leader counterparts will help to ensure this knowledge and experience brain trust transfer is accomplished. The visual guide below, “Baby Boomer Brain Drain” by MBA@UNC, communicates how important knowledge transfer is for your leadership succession plan. Infusing an intergenerational trickle down coaching plan would surely help your goals of creating a brain trust. 

infographic on managing employees of all ages by UNC's MBA program

A trickle down coaching model can be implemented by the following steps: 

  1. Categorize your various generations: Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, and Gen Z. 
  2. Seek a coaching expert that can properly teach your team how to effectively carry a coaching conversation. This is a critical step that most leaders fail when implementing a coaching program. Coaching in and of itself is an art, not a science. Proper training will ensure a higher probability of success for your coaching endeavor. 
  3. Pair each generation with a representative from their succeeding generation. For example, pair a Traditionalist with a Boomer, a Boomer with a Gen X, etc. The Gen Zs will most likely not have enough experience to coach. This step is dependent on the culture and makeup of your organization. Pair your team in a way that best suits your organizational goals.
  4. Assess the appropriate coaching conversation frequency for each generation. 
  5. Allow your teams to dive deep into coaching conversations to build relationships, transfer knowledge, share wisdom.

So What?

With all of the buzz surrounding managing intergenerational teams, it may appear to some as a topic far too complex to unpack. For others, they may not understand the return on investment that proactively managing five generations can provide their company.

Asghar (2014) found that over one-third of professionals waste 12 percent of their work week dealing with intergenerational conflict in the workplace. This percentage is high enough to pique the interests of managers and leaders who are focused on productivity and the bottom line.

MBA@UNC’s guide titled “Managing the Multigenerational Workplace” sufficiently addresses the bottom-line benefits of effectively resolving and managing the intergenerational melting pot. Improved corporate culture, improved competitiveness, more effective recruitment, improved employee engagement and morale, and better employee retention are all benefits that any level-headed manager would deem imperative to the well-being of their organization.


While the organizational landscape is in somewhat of a growth spurt, considering the blend of intergenerational perspectives this is an exciting time to be in the workplace. Many managers see five generations under one roof as a hurdle, while this may be one of the greatest times in history to harness so many diverse perspectives to solve common business issues.

As you step into the office and see so many generations conducting themselves in a multitude of ways, remind yourself that this is an exciting opportunity to learn, grow, and achieve. 

Image Credit: andrei_r / Getty Images
Derek Matthews, Ph.D. Member
Derek Matthews believes that leadership is truly the art of helping individuals discover and master their character within the context of a greater story - their personal leadership growth story. Derek received his Bachelor of Arts in Communication and Digital Media from Carthage College in 2010. He received a Masters in Organizational Leadership from Gonzaga University in 2011. At the age of 25 Derek became the youngest leadership Ph.D. in the country by receiving his Ph.D. in Leadership for the Advancement of Learning and Service from Cardinal Stritch University in 2014. Dr. Matthews’s dissertation focused on how millennials make meaning of life, leadership, and the college experience by creating personal narratives in their collegiate leadership growth journey. Derek is the Co-Director of Character Quest Leadership Development Company (CQ), which believes dynamic leadership is about becoming the greatest version of yourself. CQ offers team, leadership, and character learning experiences which focus on the art of coaching, leading high potential emerging leaders, engaging all levels of an organization, and outdoor custom leadership development. Derek is the co-founder of the Carthage College Leadership Certification & Coaching Program in Kenosha, WI. Additionally, Derek is the Craft Category Manager at Matthews Distributing Co., the local Miller/Coors distributor in Dubuque, IA. Derek and his wife Michelle currently live in Dubuque, IA, have two cats (Leonidas and Arya) and are expecting their first baby in August!