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Generation X

Build Your Own X-Team: Workplace Evolution

I may be a Millenial, but I’m not too young to remember The A-Team. The best thing about the A-Team was that each member was so different and brought a unique talent. There was no B-squad; they could do it all. As Gen Xers move into positions of management, they need to create their own teams, X-Teams, to capture the unique talents of each generation.

This is part 2 in the series of posts on workplace evolution.

I may be a Millenial, but I’m not too young to remember The A-Team. The best thing about the A-Team was that each member was so different and brought a unique talent. There was no B-squad; they could do it all. As Gen Xers move into positions of management, they need to create their own teams, X-Teams, to capture the unique talents of each generation.

Gen Xers are not inherently team players. However, they are moving into management roles and will need some guidance from the Baby Boomers who are slowly retiring. Gen Xers will benefit from working on teams with Baby Boomers and learning the skills they need to be strong leaders.

And how will Gen Xers manage once they get to the top? The Baby Boomers aren’t going anywhere too fast and Millenials are quickly becoming the largest population in the workforce, 75% by 2025 according to a study done by The Business and Professional Women’s Foundation. So, Gen Xers need to find ways to keep the experience of the Baby Boomers while attracting, motivating and keeping Millenials.

Enter the X-Teams.

In his book “Human Factors in Project Management: Concepts, Tools and Techniques for Inspiring Teamwork and Motivation”  Zachary Wong points out that Baby Boomers lived through and participated in a number of social movements, (civil rights, women’s rights), so they believe in the power of teamwork to drive progress.

More than just a team mentality, Baby Boomers have years of experience you don’t want to lose when they retire. Put them in a position to teach Gen Xers and Millenials by teaming them up and letting them all learn from each other. By putting them in teams, Baby Boomers will continue to feel valuable to the organization as well as filling mentee roles that will benefit Gen Xers and Millenials.

Although they may be the youngest members of the workforce, Millenials do not want to be on the B-Squad. Millenials want to be included; they want to feel valued for their input and they want to feel like what they say is taken seriously. Millenials are team players by design and actually more productive working in teams. The Millenials were practically born on teams. By five they were playing organized sports. By adolescence they were doing team learning projects in school.

Millenials are eager to take advice from older generations. They crave feedback; their parents hovered over them. They are looking for mentors now in the workplace. Baby Boomers and Gen Xers have a lot to offer Millenials, and Millenials are eager to listen.

Remove the obstacles

Before the A-Team could be a productive crime fighting unit; they had to break out of prison for a crime they didn’t commit. We too will have to break out, tear down some walls and create collaborative environments for your X-Teams.

Remember your first cube? If you’re like me, it filled you with a sense of dread. Well, the walls are coming down!  A more open workspace will foster creativity, productivity, distancing itself from the old cube farm format. To create a more collaborative, creative, hence productive workspace, consider small conference tables and open spaces. Places like The Nerdery have already tried this and seen unexpected and positive results.

With multi-generational teams, there are bound to be some generational clashes. Have you ever noticed that each generation views the next one as lazy? No generation is raising lazy kids or we wouldn’t be where we are today. What is interpreted as laziness is a misunderstanding of different work styles. As you build your X-Teams it’s important to recognize what the generational differences are and encourage respect and understanding of those differences.

X-Teams will harness the best of what each generation has to offer. You are likely to have some setbacks, cliffhangers, but as the team works together to complete complicated missions, everyone will benefit.

Zs came of age in an era of disruption

In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.

For example:

  • ‍Zs were born into a “modern family era” in which highly involved dads help out at home, and the nuclear family model (two parents, married, with children) represent only 46% of American households.
  • ‍Zs are the first generation to be born into a world where everything physical, from people to places to pennies, has a digital equivalent.
  • From the time they were infants, Zs had access to mobile technology. As a result, their brains have been trained to absorb large amounts of information, and Zs are especially adept at shifting between skills and subject matter.
  • Zs tend to have crystal-clear memories of sitting up for the first time at six months old because they can easily and quickly reference the photos and videos their parents shared on social media or saved in the “cloud”. 

Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.

Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.

Zs were raised to be competitive

In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.

With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.

Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.

Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.

Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.

Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.

In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.

Zs are career-focused.

While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.

The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.

Zs are seeking financial security. 

Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results.  Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.

Zs value leaders who are positive and trustworthy.

When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.


Zs want to be challenged.

Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.

Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.


Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.


Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.

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