Leverage Strengths to Close the Generation Gap In Your Team

There’s never been a time in history like today where four generations have worked together alongside each other. As a team leader, that can present you with many challenges since your team could be comprised of older Traditional and Baby Boomer generation members right alongside Generation X and Y team members. If you don’t manage the relationships properly, the generation gap between your team members could seem as large as the Grand Canyon.

Here’s the problem. Younger team members often think the older ones are way too stodgy, rigid and stuck in their way of doing things. Older team members think the “new kids on the block” should pay their dues, hunker down and work hard, and quit expecting to be thanked just for showing up at work.

How do you find a happy medium and use the strengths of your team members to accomplish your team goals? Understanding what they want will go a long way in helping you make everyone a star.

For Traditionalist and Baby Boomers that means:

  • Feeling important — they are the “stars” of the organization
  • Being treated fairly
  • Seeing that their knowledge is valued
  • Allowing them to talk about and show you what they know

Gen X and Gen Y are looking for:

  • Constant learning and growth
  • Flexibility to try new things
  • Access to information and people
  • Ways to link what they do to the bigger goals of the company

So here are some suggestions for you.

  • Pair up older team members who can be mentors to the younger crowd. The generations can learn a lot from each other. Carefully connect team members together — allowing older workers to share and younger members to learn.
  • Listen with an open mind. Provide the young people on your team with a method for sharing their ideas. Give them the freedom — with loose boundaries — to try out their ideas in a safe environment.
  • Help them understand the value. Have regular group discussions about how the team, and individual contributions have helped the organization achieve its goals. Make sure and celebrate small and large successes along the way.

What tips would you add for ensuring that the convergence of four generations in the workplace taps the strengths of all team members? Let’s talk about it.

Denise O'Berry

Denise O’Berry — aka the Team Doc — has been working with teams and team leadership in the public, non profit and private sectors for over twenty years. Follow her @askteamdoc.

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  • http://www.movingfrommetowe.com Kare Anderson

    What a timely, well-written post Denise for this still wobbly economy where we are especially appreciative of having work and know that so many do not.

    In an increasingly connected world methinks there will be more project-centered work where smart collaboration is key to staying relevant.

    Smart organizations are flattening and encouraging self-organized behavior. More than traditional “leaders” the sought-after individuals are those who can:
    1. Clearly articulate an actionable goal that solves a problem or seizes an opportunity.
    2. Recruit the right individuals (regardless of age or other differences) to reach that goal, appealing to them by addressing the sweet spot mutual benefit for them to participate, then telling the assembled team what each brings to the task
    3. Gain agreement from that team on Rules of Engagement by which they will operate and whether one person will facilitate the group's work and who will be lead on which tasks

    Upfront agreements such as this make it more likely that disparate individuals bring out the better side in each other, can be candid and better more through fractious times and become higher-performing and happier on the team than if they did not do that work upfront.
    In this four generation era, younger people are mentoring me as well as vice versa – no one can be an expert at everything in this time of increasing complexity.

    In think that, next to one's top talent the most vital trait to hone is the capacity to collaborate, especially with individuals extremely different (ethnicity, age, work knowledge etc.) than oneself.

    [Reply]

    Denise O'Berry Reply:

    @Kare Anderson, thank you for your thoughts. I think this is a really exciting time to be in a place where there is so much generational diversity. What an opportunity for everyone. And, for the record, IMO listening is the most important skill for every single person in the workplace. None of us do enough of it. :)

    [Reply]

  • tnsemployeeinsights

    Great post! Really enjoyed reading this.  TNS Employee Insights has a publication on workplace generations that is supplemental to this post: http://www.tnsemployeeinsights.com/images/stories/foresight/pdf/TNS_2136-11HT_WorkGen-lowres.pdf

    [Reply]

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