Manage a Team Like It’s Hard

“Manage a team like it’s hard,” is a sentiment many management trainers, writers, researchers, and others won’t tell you. And yet, it’s the truest statement you’ll ever read about managing people.

Teams are hard to manage. People have their own values, sentiments, emotions, and ideas about how they should work, as well as about the meaning of the work they are doing.

They also have resistance to other adults telling them what to do, which is why compliance is enforced through regimented schooling for years before people reach the workforce.

Finally, teams are composed of both people and tasks that must be done to accomplish goals that aren’t always clear, and whose benefits aren’t nearly always well defined.

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…with many workplaces now comprising four generations, it’s important to recognise that while digital natives may well adapt more speedily to new working arrangements, all generations can add value to the remote workplace. HR has an important role to play in helping managers understand how the different generations perceive and like to manage work – and how this translates into the virtual space.

And now, as workplaces experience the greatest upheaval since World War Two in the wake of the novel coronavirus taking its toll, the clash between the four generations of people in the workplace that had been something to just dismiss, roll eyes at, or in general, ignored as a fiction of over-researched research, has reared its head.

Coming on the heels of social upheaval, the generational divide at work has now been exposed and all while workers are working at home, trying to navigate the collision between their work lives and their personal lives that they had long assumed would be separate and sacrosanct.

It is important for HR to recognize the disparity in competence, comfortability, and compliance with the new digital realities of working at home, it is also important—even more so—for human resource professionals to realize that training their managers how to manage multigenerational teams remotely, maybe the best move they make for the long-term viability of their organizational cultures.

Manage a MultiGenerational Team Through Challenges

When considering the challenges that administrators, managers, and supervisors face when addressing the dynamics of a multigenerational, remote workforce, there are three main challenges that must be addressed through training and development work:

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The depth of impatience – Simon Sinek in his YouTube famous interview from 2016, stated that technology has bred impatience in the Millennial generation like never before. Managers may want to amend that idea in their minds and acknowledge that all generations in the workforce have been impacted by the rise of the ability to have anything that is desired, on-demand, right now.

Except for the long, hard, rigorous processes of workplace, social, cultural, and people-focused change. Those processes resist impatience because they have been so deeply bred and embedded in the fabric of work itself, that impatient workers must be guided toward resilience, autonomy, and initiative.

The impact of technology – Every manager has experienced this dynamic since the beginnings of the lockdowns locally, nationally, and worldwide in March 2020. The assumption that certain generations in the workforce would have more facility with technology, and more comfort in a digitally detached workplace and thus be more productive, has not proven to be an empirical fact.

The truth is, technological impacts and their reverberation through the generational divides, are more likely to make all members of all generations more anxious, more desirous of human connection, and more thirsty for the stability and predictability of compliance-based work environments.

The shifting work environment—It used to be that the manager had, at least the appearance of control over the work environment. Sure, changes happened but many of those could be managed and the impacts lessened as they reverberated down to frontline workers. Gradually, this Industrial Revolution paternal way of managing the workforce was replaced, grudgingly, by a species of collaboration between managers and workers.

However, in the last year, that gradual shift in managerial power away from the organization and toward the worker, has shifted yet again from the worker and the organization to governmental processes, funding, and structures that bind managers into what they are mandated to do. And bind workers into what they are mandated to accept. We are seeing the next stage of this begin with CCOVID-19 vaccine requirements being talked about in many white-collar workplaces where the remote work dynamic has made managers anxious about what their employees are doing all day.

Every generation wants managers to provide opportunities for leadership, mentorship, productivity, and autonomy. As an adult, the best place to attain such opportunities is in the work environment, regardless of collar color, work tasks, organizational structure, or managerial posture toward the environment.

So, what are the top 5 ways a manager can manage a remote multigenerational team?

Top 5 Ways to Manage a Remote MultiGenerational Team

Here are the top five ways to manage a remote—or on-site, or hybrid—multigenerational team during a time of immense disruption and global workplace crisis:

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Give employees space to do work – Overloading employees with Zoom meetings because management can’t figure out another way to ensure compliance is a sure way to burnout staff, reduce productivity, increase disengagement, and increase resistance. Remember the Pareto Principle: You accomplish 80% of your goals with 20% of the work you do. Managers should adhere to this and scale back the Zoom over scheduling.

Provide breaks for people to work and trust that they are doing so – Managers must eliminate the Industrial Revolution need to constantly track and observe employees. This goes along with the method of managing employees mentioned above, but it also means that the standard “workday” of 9 to 5 or 7 to 3, doesn’t apply in a work from home situation. Establishing this standard means the organization has to make sure access to technology to do work is always there, always-on, and that managers must develop trust in their teams.

Recognize that employees have more power now than they’ve had since the days of unionization – When they can “mute” their video and audio, trust matters more as an element of persuasion than coercion. Sure, they can be fired. And collect unemployment. Until government compensation policies shift at the state and federal level, managers are just going to have to realize that the idea of “insubordination” is gone and that firing employees for behaving, speaking, and acting as if the organizational chart is flat rather than a pyramid, is a non-starter. Instead, managers should double down on tools and methods of persuasion to have success.

Decisions via email/text/IM are still decisions – Managers need not make decisions at the speed of a text. Let electronic communication breathe. This means training employees to be patient, engaging in practical digital breaks and times of being away from work, and not leveraging decision making at the speed of an email. This may also mean training executive decision-makers in the new reality of the workplace.

Discipline in a digital environment has to be handled with finesse –Managers now more than ever are one text or posted video away from having their teams “blow up” on social media. With the rise of calls for social justice and online, digital advocacy growing, managers are closer than they ever have been before of having their personal opinions, thoughts, feelings, and positions on political and cultural issues exposed by well-meaning and genuine employee advocates.

It used to be that employees went home and there was a veil between private and public. Now that has been pierced and managers have to get real about how they’re going to navigate calls for transparency, empathy, acknowledgment of cultural and social injustice, and how all that comes together in the workplace. The incorrect response is “locking down” employees’ communications, or creating draconian, paternal, and compliance-based policies.

If managers can integrate these five suggestions into their management approaches to remote multigenerational teams, they will experience success, their teams will be more productive, and the remote workplace will evolve into an environment where everyone has a place.

[A longer version of this content appears in the book Leadership Toolbox: 12 Lessons For Intentional Leaders out in June 2020.]
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