Teamwork Across the Generations

Posted:28 May 2019

Author: Val Rathjen, Community Learning Network

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Comments: 1

Recommendations: 1

Strong relationships and a safe and welcoming atmosphere are important, not just for our learners but also within our organization as a whole. When I look across the CALP landscape at staff, boards and volunteers I am excited to see the engagement of so many diverse people and generations. Over the past year I’ve had the privilege of meeting and working with people that could be my kids as well as those that could be my parents. Many CALP organizations are comprised of two to three different generations, be that on the board, in their volunteer pool or right in the CALP office itself.

The following chart compares three generations and the differences in their communication styles and preferences, motivators, recruitment/orientation strategies and feedback preferences. While these are generalizations, it can be helpful to consider these factors as you build relationships and trust in your team.


Communication Styles & Interaction Preference   

Motivators & Stressors   

Recruitment & Orientation Tips   

Performance Management & Feedback

Baby Boomers


  • Ensure your body language matches your words & tone
  • Speak in an open, direct style but avoid controlling language
  • Answer questions thoroughly and expect to be pressed for the details
  • Present options to demonstrate flexibility in your thinking
  • Public recognition
  • Desire to have subordinates
  • Peer recognition
  • Control

“Your experience is respected.”

  • Value the opportunity to move up in the organization
  • Explain the organization’s mission
  • Acknowledge their desire to roll up their sleeves and dive in
  • Integrate them to the team ASAP
  • Feedback annually with good documentation

Generation X


  • Use email as primary communication tool
  • Ask them for their feedback and provide them with regular feedback
  • Share info with them on a regular basis and try to keep them in the loop
  • Do well by doing good
  • Meeting organizational goals
  • Recognition from boss (supervisor)

 “You are valuable, worthy.”

“Your contribution is unique and important.”

  • Want to know exactly what they’ll be doing, are they on the right track
  • Keep it interesting
  • Use highly visual presentations
  • Be honest, open and realistic
  • Enjoy being with their peers
  • Will make decision to stay long-term within first 6 months
  • “Sorry to interrupt, but how am I doing?”
  • Can come across very blunt

Generation Y


  • Use action words and challenge them to keep them engaged
  • They will resent it if you talk down to them
  • They prefer texting communication
  • Seek their feedback often and provide them with regular feedback
  •  Time off
  • Meeting own goals
  • Recognition from boss (supervisor)
  • Skills training
  • Mentoring

 “You will be collaborating with other bright, creative people.”

  • Help them see the future and role they will play
  • Encourage them to explore what they want to do next
  • Use hands-on and rapid paced orientation with computer-based instruction
  • Respects authority but not awed by it
  • Sees leadership as a participatory process; will question rules and policies, will ask “why”
  • Feedback whenever I want at the push of a button
  • Have been asked their opinions their whole lives; may mistake silence for disapproval

Adapted from materials shared by JUNA Consulting Inc. -

But how does this really apply?

  • When you are working with your board, consider what they value and prefer. For example, if your board is comprised mainly of Boomers, you might expect that they will desire interaction that is clear, respectful and to the point. They may also want to have all the options laid out for them. They will likely care about the details and feel a sense of ownership and control. In contrast, a board of mostly Generation X or Y may be more interested in collaboration rather than top down leadership.
  • When you are considering ways to appreciate your board and volunteers you may want to consider which group values public acknowledgement and which group may prefer a more personal and private thank you.
  • When it comes to training – maybe board orientation or volunteer tutors – think about which group(s) would respond best to group training or if online training that can fit into their schedule is going to be more appropriate.
  • If you are stepping into a staff position where you will be supervising staff from a different generation, consider what may motivate them and how they like to be communicated with. Checking our expectations and assumptions is always important when leading a team.

At the end of the day we all want to be valued and heard. Whether we are connecting with our learners, working together as staff, or engaging with our board or volunteers, the investments we make in building strong relationships is the cornerstone of success.

Val Rathjen, CLN
East-Central Regional Support Staff



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