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Why Baby Boomers and Millennials Make Great Teams

The differing communication style of these two generations can prove to be an asset — if managed correctly.

Much has been written stereotyping both the millennial and baby-boomer generations, but the real insight lies in how they work together – if given the right environment.

There are roughly 66 million baby-boomers in the U.S., most of whom were supposed to be retiring in the next five to ten years. But the instability of the financial system in the last decade (and its effects on personal savings and retirement accounts), along with a growing interest in doing meaningful work that has a positive impact in the world, is leading to a budding new trend for Boomers: encore careers.

Championed by enterprising organizations such as, encore careers are follow-on careers where Boomers take the skills, knowledge, and wisdom they’ve gained from decades of work and put them to use on projects that they find personally meaningful. This means more Boomers will be sticking around in the office for years and years to come.

On the other end of the demographic spectrum are the Millennials – roughly 90 million strong – sandwiching Gen X (93 million). Millennials are known as tech-savvy, idealistic, and (in some cases) hard for older generations to work with. But when you do the math, it’s clear that Boomers and Millennials will be increasingly working side-by-side.

Rather than buy into the oil-and-water view, I propose a different view of this inevitable mixing. I see vibrant, powerful opportunity due to the overlapping nature of what each group needs and wants, and what each has to give.

At the core of the Millennial energy is potential.

  • Relatively fresh, especially in the working world. Millennials haven’t had time to learn what doesn’t work – their brains aren’t wired yet.
  • Able to work incredibly hard when they are motivated to do so. Intense focus, long hours, across a range of task domains.
  • Intuitively understand technology – they are “digital natives.”
  • Want to see the world become a better place for themselves and their future families.
  • Want mentors who can guide them and explain what mistakes to avoid to maximize their progress and contribution.

At the core of Boomer energy is experience.

  • Spent decades learning, their brains are wired now for what works.
  • Intangible wisdom that comes from decades of forming and living through relationships, projects, and experiences.
  • Tend to have an uneven relationship with technology, how it works, and what is possible.
  • Want to see the world become a better place for their kids and grandkids.
  • Want to feel like they have a direct and tangible way to give back and pass along the things they’ve learned.

I think these groups are a match made in heaven. Here’s how I would structure a Boomer-Millennial dream team to become an unsuspecting source of power for a project or business unit.

Rather than buy into the oil-and-water view, I propose a different view of this inevitable mixing. I see vibrant, powerful opportunity.

Stress the importance of communication.

This is the most important one. Over-communication is better than insufficient communication. I’d want them communicating about everything – including (especially, in fact) difficult situations like when one of them is frustrated, or confused, or impatient, or anxious.

  • I’d look to the Boomer’s experience with relationships – of all kinds – over her career as a source of confidence in her being able to talk with the Millennial.
  • And I’d appeal to the Millennial’s priority of personal growth and development in taking the time – even when it’s uncomfortable – to talk about his thoughts and emotions with the Boomer.

Contextualize the project in relation to its goals.

This means focusing on the mission, the underlying purpose, the reason why the thing matters – and not about the process of how it’ll get done. This appeals to their shared sense of purpose.

For example, compare:

“Our job is to judge the effectiveness of urban gardens.”


 “We’re here to figure out whether or not the free installation of urban gardens in Denver helps low-income families eat healthier or not. We’ve got nine months to come up with initial findings. It’s important because if the answer is no, then $500,000 of foundation money can go somewhere that it’s being better spent next year. If the answer is yes, it means we have a national model that other cities can learn from. So this is a huge opportunity to make a worthwhile contribution.”

Set their team dynamic as flat, not hierarchal.

Like any team, Millennials and Boomers need to work together to find the best way to achieve the project goals. At times they should each be leading. Neither is the boss. Under this dynamic, they have to build trust by understanding each others’ strengths and weaknesses.

Make it clear that you expect two-way teaching and learning.

This should be the case no matter how the project is going. Especially when uncertainty is high and they aren’t sure what the right course of action is.

  • Invite the Boomer to share her perspective based on previous experiences she’s had, contextualizing it for the Millennial with specific examples and explanations of why certain approaches are likely to work better. I also expect her to proactively think about the Millennial’s strengths and weaknesses, and make suggestions about how he can best leverage his natural talents for the project – and beyond.
  • Invite the Millennial to teach the Boomer about models, software, and web tools that he thinks would aid the project in a way that she understands (note: that’s his responsibility, not hers).

A lot of these points would go for any team that I’d assemble, but my hunch is that there is an extra bit of magic in a Boomer/Millennial duo that is set up for success and encouraged to play off of each other’s inherent strengths.

How about you?

What else do you think could be done to build a strong inter-generational team? What’s worked for you?

Comments (74)
  • Steve Ardire

    some good thoughts Nathaniel

  • Raul San

    You speak the truth! I recommend this article to every manager that wants to bring more millennials into their teams. The combination of energy and experience is explosive and can bring so much goodness. Many managers see the difference in mindset as an “oil-and-water mix” when in fact, as you mention, there is a vibrant and powerful opportunity to move companies forward. Great article.

  • Karen E. Lund

    I love this! [Our] “brains are wired now for what works.”

    That’s true of many things (thank you for noticing) but especially technology. My relationship isn’t “uneven” exactly, but as someone who remembers Betamax, disc film and floppy disks (the really old ones that were actually floppy), I do tend to look on new shiny things and wonder how long they’ll last. But convince me that something will survive the next generation of hardware and I’ll give it a try.

    I’ve worked (and volunteered) with Millennials and it is almost universally a pleasure. Not only are they good at alerting me to new technology, they have enormous curiosity and energy. The ones I know are idealistic but practical and they can often get me feeling idealistic even when I’m at my most jaded.

    • Nathaniel Koloc

      Thanks for the comment Karen! I think the bright-eyed idealism can be a common thread for Millennials and Boomers.

  • sluggita

    Yes, an excellent argument, and I agree wholeheartedly with you. However…as a boomer with incredible experience and the desire to pass deep knowledge of my field on, I am routinely passed over and outright ignored by “Millennials” for jobs and projects which I am extremely suited for. It’s not boomers who need convincing. At first I thought it was isolated incidents, now I know it’s incredibly widespread, we simply are not wanted nor listened to, because Ms think they know everything, and we are obsolete. Sorry, but this is been my experience, over and over again. I went from enthusiasm to acceptance that I will never work with people in these age groups, for the simple reason that they do not want to, and they are now in the hiring positions. I applaud articles like this, however, I fear it’s too deeply ingrained and accepted to ignore/reject people my age.

    I thought it was my own flawed perception, or a misunderstanding of events, then I read an interview with a M in my field, who actually had the balls to PUBLICLY SAY IN AN INTERVIEW “we are tired of Baby Boomers telling us what to do, now we are old enough to do what we want”, then I realized my perception and analysis of the situation is not only astute, but correct. This says to me it’s an accepted view, and not going to change any time soon.

    Severely sad.

    • Riley

      As a Millennial I have to interject here. It’s not that we overlook boomers just because they are boomers, but our experience has been that boomers often assume age trumps all. Millennials are DYING for good mentors, but they will not accept you have something to teach them just because you are older. You must prove yourself to them. Millennials will not accept that just because you have done it for 30 years you have the right answer. I’m not saying one is right or wrong, it’s just the way it is.

      “Tired of telling us what to do” is indicative of the way Boomers work according to Millennials. Millennials work in groups, they think and plan together, they bounce ideas off each other. They are not a cubicle generation. Their offices are open. The CEO’s office has no door. You can find recruiting officers eating lunch with the design department and accounting because they are friends, not because it’s a “lunch meeting.” When Millenials lose their “creative steam” for the day they want to go play ping-pong or go for a bike ride to rejuvenate their minds. Boomers have a strict hierarchy of who’s in charge, who does what tasks and when. They sit behind cubicles to avoid interruption. Boomers want to see everyone at their desk all day “working.” Their work methods are different.

      Clearly all of these thoughts are generalizations and there always exceptions, these are my observations. It doesn’t take away from the fact that we are different, and if we can learn to leverage these differences, accept them, and work together we could have a work-force not to be reckoned with.

      • sluggita

        Thanks for your reply. Your post exactly and deeply defines the stereotypes used to exclude us. I, and my age group, are not corporate automatons only wishing to “tell you what to do”. Personally, I work in a design field, which does not now, nor hasn’t ever had any strict hierarchy to speak of, it’s extremely collaborative. We also work in groups, FFS! And have for decades, that’s how things get done. I have no idea where a large portion of Ms got the idea that we are only dying to tell you what to do and are not open to experimentation, new technology or new ways of working. We’ve successfully, repeatedly dealt with numerous iterations of new ways of working and major technology innovations. Life is change. Embrace it or suffer entropy. I will be so interested to see how your generation adapts when things change again and again.

        We “sit behind cubicles to avoid interruption”? Are you freaking kidding? I am laughing so hard right now. You have totally proved my point and that my perceptions are correct, in spades. I am so depressed that you guys are inflexible and have such closed minds. We have SO MUCH to share and give. Yes, GIVE. Please take it. We want you to. Take it and build upon it. Instead Ms seem to be determined to reinvent the wheel.

        I never had a “us against them” mentality, now I am forced to defend myself because of age and experience, which should be valuable things, not the liabilities they’re perceived as.

      • ValerieMichelle

        Following this conversation has just launched an idea! As a BB who has kids from both gens, I totally get what’s being said and felt.

      • Rachel Green

        You do realize that your original post implied an “us against them” mentality, right? That one of the main reasons that Boomers and Millennials don’t won’t to work together is because of the actions of Millennials? As if there isn’t some resistance on the part of Boomers? Maybe that’s not what you intended to imply, but well, how you say something says just as much as what you actually say.

  • m

    Plus genX is too cynical to fall for this.

    • daveplantz

      Gen X and Millennials are both cynical. It’s how they act on their cynicism that they differ. I find Gen Xers more likely to turn to apathy when facing situations that trigger cynicism while I find Millennials more likely to turn to activism. That said, when the activism doesn’t work, I find Millennials more likely to give up or go waaaaay down the cynical slide into depression land.

      I find Xers are better at handling everyday bull****. We all know the world isn’t perfect. Xers seem better at accepting the imperfection while millennials want to change it. I have to applaud millennials who try. I just hate seeing them defeated and then getting more cynical than the gen Xers who have been known for it.

  • AComm2

    The real numbers for the generations from William Strauss and Neil Howe who coined the term “Millennial” are as follows:

    Gen Xers are the largest U.S. generational population. They’re born between the years 1961 – 1981. The total U.S. Gen X population is approx. 93,000,000 people. See New York Times bestselling book titled “Generations” by experts Strauss and Howe (page 318).

    H&S projected the Millennials, born 1982 – 2004, at 76,000,000 people in the U.S. (updated to approx 90-95m) — see page 336

    Baby Boomers, born 1943 – 1960, are estimated at 79,000,000 people in the U.S. — see page 300 (however, the updated number is now 66 million according to Howe)

    The “Silent” generation, born 1925 – 1942, is at 49,000,000 people in the U.S. — see page 280

    • Nathaniel Koloc

      AComm2 – Thanks for this. I went back and checked our data – it seems that the study I had was defining the generations differently (by years), thus leading to different total numbers. Upon review, it looks like your data is more up-to-date and comprehensive, so we’ve updated the piece to use that instead. Thank you!

      • Nancy

        For sure I am a boomer. 🙂 Who enjoys connecting and listening to any age.

  • Mark Wilderspin

    My personal view is that having worked as freelancer and contractor for the last 20 years this has by implication mean that (a) I am constantly working with a wide variety of different teams, age groups, corproate cultures and ideals (b) having to ensure that I keep myself constantly updated as to digital trends and technologies. I’m not sure I’d have been able to do either as successfully if I’d been working as a long-term permanent employee for just one or two employers.

    Rigth now I’m finding idea of being ‘customer-centric’ in relation to digital quite interesting as it really resurrects the human aspects of B2C and B2B relationships that existed pre-digital but have possibly not been extensively experienced by those who have grown-up within an environment where online is the default method of communication.

    I think the blend of pre-digital concepts with digital technologies in relation to content + social + UX = ROI is an especially potent combination and is but one particular fertile and postive interfaces for mixing boomers and milleniums.

  • Guest

    PS: And I’ve obviously failed dismally to comprehend how to manage the pic setting and finding any semblance of a post-posting editing feature!…..

  • sluggita

    No, people outside your family are not your parents! But they could be mentors. There is a huge difference. I was going to address this, but didn’t out of respect, however…you did it for me. Grow up! The world consists of all different kinds/ages of people, and you can’t stay in a comfortable bubble of people who are just like you forever. That’s called college. Beyond the short-term destruction of our livelihoods, long-term you are losing out on the wisdom experience brings, the chance to benefit, grow it, then bring your own spin to it. You’d be way ahead of the game. Instead you are proudly reinventing the wheel, all by yourselves, in-between ping-pong games. So frustrating..

  • Guilherme Boff

    Before read this post, I used see trouble in both sides. As expected, the Millennials side acting like “Boomers, your mindset is to old to solve the problems of today” and the Boomer reacting like “why Millennials alway think they are right? and never listen us!”. Reflecting about the whole picture, my question is: Why this contrary behavior happens? From where came this culture that Millennials knows everything and doesn’t listen Boomers as well Boomers complain about the way Millennials want to work. Because this is happening all the time, but nobody stoped this conflict (until I read this post) and said: hew folks, you two work better together and don’t complaining about each other.

    • Colin Frost

      Nail on the head with the last line

  • untaken

    This “boomer” bristles at the whole “digital native” meme, and at the way this and many other articles are framed as techno-fool meets groovy Millennial. The fact is that groundwork laid by the older generation has made the digital world infinitely easier to navigate and to engage with. It took a completely different class of savvy and expertise to use USENET over dial-up and to build websites with HTML in text editors, etc., etc.–and to conceive the World Wide Web itself. (Yes, Virginia, people used the Internet before the Web, and the Web existed before browsers!)

    Let’s be honest. Doing most digital stuff, from word processing (is that term even used anymore?) to building websites, is an absolute breeze compared to 20 years ago, and much of that is due to the work of those of us who did it the hard way.

    When I listen to Millennials hoodwinking their elders into believing that they can only hire 20-somethings to do social media because it’s *so hard to understand*, I have to laugh. Were she still alive, my grandmother could use Facebook, but she might struggle with the server-side includes we had to use to build a decent website before CSS came along.

    Perhaps there’d be less friction if Millennials could occasionally show a shred of respect for the people who made the whole digital world graphical and clickable and wireless and standardized and seamlessly interconnected?

  • Charles

    I think this is really a very nice post.

  • Eric Ward

    Thank you Nathaniel for putting forth this kind of mindset which one can hope spurs on proactive integration… I, for one, believe your hypothesis will exist because it’s the natural evolution towards survival and, for those who celebrate your premise, an ultimate ‘thriving way’.

    I’ve been purposefully pursuing dialogues amongst my colleagues, fellow Boomers, and posting a key question amongst them; what will happen to all that experience/knowledge you’ve acquired over your life and career? Will it go by the winds of time to just disappear with a whimper? Or, are those priceless gifts of experience something we can constructively and humbly give. And, in the exchange, we get to participate in the optimism and energies of younger people in mutual benefit.

    Your article is very poignant and wise… The key to generations living and working together is understanding, acknowledging and appreciating each others….’passions’ and the capabilities stemming from that, raw and seasoned. Passion is the core to anything that has a hope of existing… it’s the propellant that shoots us towards a path well-lived… (one experienced Boomer’s opinion anyway)

  • Colin Frost


  • Stepa

    It is good post, however I am not sure how it is accurate.

  • sluggita

    What an interesting reply. My point is I would not be given the chance to “prove” myself to you, because I would not even be interviewed. You are arrogant. I was also, at 27. Life will teach you a few things along the way, just like it did me. Best of luck with the sucker punches. 🙂

    I’m sure there are boomers who want to tell you what to do, but I would venture a guess, it’s not most of them. It’s the parent hangup another poster brought up. Please learn to emotionally distinguish between your actual parents, and other people. Many of us don’t have children, or ours are already happily out of the house. The last thing we want to do is parent you. Seriously, what a bore, and inappropriate too, especially on the job. That is NOT what a mentor is.

    You might try giving respect FIRST, to everyone, and see how it goes.

    • SSoshea

      Right on!

    • Jet Nguyen

      The irony is that this is written in a parental tone. The above adds no value, or is not presented in such a way that I am taking value from it. I simply read, “I’m older than you and I’ve learned things along the way. Don’t worry, you will too!”

      My advice to you, sluggita, is to figure out exactly why you are being turned away for jobs outside of an age barrier. I can definitely see age-bigotry in play, but being turned away at every door seems exaggerated. Depending on your field or industry, I’d start figuring out ways to compete outside of the old-fashioned BOOMER mentality of 1-page resume and interview. How do you demonstrate your ability prior to the interview? How do you create a first impression prior to actually meeting the hiring manager?

      There are so many channels that Ms and Xs understand need to be blanketed prior to stepping foot in to a company’s HR department.

      You’re welcome to take my advice and look to me as your mentor, but I think your age has caused a different type of arrogance.

  • SSoshea

    Agreed. The ironic thing is that once one becomes the person whose been there longer, you don’t see the problem with the situation. I’m sure that’s the case with Xers with respect to M’s.

    The sad part is that by jumping around, M’s are denying themselves deeper levels of experience and growth within a job when you’re there for more than a year. And these moves are often lateral, rather than vertical. (Mind you, people in general change jobs much more frequently now than before. And, frequently, changing a job more easily allows for upward career growth, rather than slogging away at the same job.) But if you’re frequently bouncing to new jobs or projects, this then starts to become a negative for landing a more meaningful opportunity. To be hired for a higher-level job, this requires commitment and focus.

    • Colin Frost

      Interesting insights, good to think about 🙂

      I agree – there’s a lot of value in seeing a deeper way of how a company works

  • Caitlin Kelly

    I’ve been working in my field (journalism) since 1978, so I am a Boomer.

    One of the issues that drives BBs nuts is working with people who seem to have no idea how the place that just hired them came to be, or its values or its underlying principles. In the elevator at the New York Times, a place many younger workers now see as “just another job”, (while a place Boomers aspired to work at for decades, if not still), I overheard three Millenials whining about the televisions that are on in the newsroom, quietly, at all times. (Yes, Twitter is now more likely a useful source of breaking news.) They couldn’t figure out why a newsroom would bother to have televisions. Because it’s a “news” room, not a “content” room. I have friends and colleagues working there who leave daily in frustration (likely both generations) at the astonishing arrogance they meet from younger workers who think, because they’re young, they de facto know how to do everything better than the Pulitzer winners with gray hair who sit beside them. There are people working there who have, literally, risked their lives to gather and report the news, not just Google it or glance at it on a tiny screen.

    Maybe if each person in an inter-generational team got to know one another personally (Google them, read their blog and LinkedIn profiles instead of sneering at their age), and saw their accomplishments, there might be more mutual respect. Simply dismissing Boomers’ lives, work, awards and hard-earned achievements as irrelevant to adding to your personal career growth is simply rude.

    • soveery

      Elegant and insightful. (I work with a handful of sneerers.) Thank you.

    • David Pederson

      I keep running into your posts, comments, and articles. And I am
      really glad for that. I enjoy your insights. I hope to continue to find
      them around this place.

      BTW, my world is filled
      with Millenials, most of whom are engineering students. And they are
      really bright. And too quick to assume they have the answers.

      ones that grasp the benefits of looking beyond age, do much better than
      the ones that assume if they bake cookies for BBs we will just do their
      work for them and applaud their cleverness.

  • Colin Frost

    Boomers or not, couldn’t this thinking be applied to anyone who has the “my way is the right way” mentality?

    (I know you know the answer is obviously yes, but food for thought when it comes to how angry some boomers may get over that reply)

  • Colin Frost

    Very very very insightful – especially loved reading that second paragraph. It seems like you’re pointing out an interesting disconnect:
    -M assumes BB wants to mentor them on how to do their work (lets call it design in this case)
    -M could strongly benefit from being shown the ropes in that particular culture (or the corporate world in general)

    It seems like many M’s may take the “mentoring” note as “mentor me on how to better use photoshop” as where more of the “life lessons” might be of value.*

    Thanks for satiating my curiosity!

    *Don’t take this as me assuming all M’s are more talented in electronic stuff than BB’s – I’m just saying the value that an M will see will likely be in corporate strategy/interpersonal dynamic insights

  • Steven Moore

    Being born in 1978, I sometimes feel a bit of a “mix breed” of GenX and Millennial. I work in a segment of culture that is currently in transition and struggling to connect with the millennials both in marketing and assimilation. I recently read “Managing the Millenials” by Chip Espinoza and it has been a great resource on how these two generations can bring out the best in each other. It addresses the relationships, values, and intrinsic motivators of the M’s and Boomers. Really, both generations want the same things, they are just viewed through different perspective and communicated differently. It’s a great read if you have the time.

  • Deborah Harowitz

    Wow! What a hot topic. I’m a little surprised at the number of defensive responses but here is my experience – I’m a boomer, trying to start a creative business. I’m a creative thinker, which BTW does not mean I’m flakey, ADD or lazy/stupid/irresponsible. It means my brain works differently that my engineer friends. It also means I have challenges that they don’t when it comes to planning projects and getting things done. On the flip side I have some abilities they don’t have when it comes to problem solving but that’s another topic. I have learned more and had more success in all aspects of my life from things I’ve learned in the last ten years on the internet that the whole 40 some years previously. Who have I learned them from? The 20 and 30 somethings that are not afraid to explore the fringe thinkers and treat it like a different way of being and not a disease. To come up with alternative behaviors and not medication to make it all work and work well. At the same time I have shared some of my hard won experiences in other fields; my first career as an engineering designer and my second as a fiber artist. To these Millennials I owe a great debt.

  • Ron

    Nathaniel -BRAVO! So grateful to see you moving away from the demographic view of this issue and moving it squarely into the space it belongs -the RELATIONSHIP space. Well done. The relatonship between generations is a subject near and dear to my heart and glad there are others championing the cause appropriately. Here’s some additional reading you might enjoy……Best,, Ron

  • GenX

    I would like now to read a generation X article. Nowadays is all about boomer and millennials. This article for example. Hope to see some balance and more X in future articles.

    • Dangerous Meredith

      Agreed. I am starting to feel quite melancholy at how invisible we are. (Good article though, and I have long noticed and been of the opinion that BBs and Millenials can and frequently do enjoy a great rapport).

  • Dreamaltitude

    I’m a boomer and thought this was a great article that outlines what I am attempting to do in my organization with some millennials recently hired. From what I have seen thus far, the dynamic described in the article is right on track.

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