How To Manage Multigenerational Teams
Each generation comes with its own work style, experience, worldview, expectations, and motivation. In addition to that, each generation has its stereotypes, judgments, and prejudices related to other generations, which makes working together more intricate. Also, with an extended lifespan and deferred retirement age, up to five generations could meet in one workplace. And as a result, many new situations, opportunities, as well as pitfalls can arise.
A general rule of thumb states that the more diverse a team in terms of opinions, viewpoints, experience, and age you manage to put together, the better and more interesting the solutions you will be able to deliver. Diverse inputs ensure that the solution will not be one-sided, oversimplifying, or biased. Also, people with diverse viewpoints complement each other and can inspire each other to adopt new, additional points of view and ideas which surpass those they would have come up with alone.
On one side, you have experience and the fact that some members of the team have already encountered a similar situation countless times; they can anticipate, see the problem in a wider context, and be aware of possible risks in advance. On the other side, you have a new, fresh view, not bounded by past experiences which may even be less relevant today. But that only works if everyone sees diversity as enriching, and they don’t tend to get bogged down in arguments and disagreements stemming from the tendency to trump others‘ opinions with their own.
Which areas are impacted by generational differences?
A very important prerequisite of good cooperation is mutual respect. And it has to go both ways. When our colleagues are closer in age to our grandchildren or, on the other hand, to our grandparents, respecting their opinions doesn’t always come naturally. This is further complicated by big differences in terms of values, ethics, or morals (for example, individual success versus common good, profit versus sustainability, free time for family versus free time for recreation, etc.). In a nutshell, finding a common ground and respecting a different point of view is not easy even when it comes to people closer to our age and if we add generational differences to the mix, both parties might become less tolerant and accommodating.
Another area where generations might clash is work style. If one generation approaches work with the attitude that the results of our work are primarily the product of our effort, responsibility, and diligence, and the other generation maintains that work should, most of all, be enjoyable and not drudgery, then it’s clear that they will not always agree.
Work style is also closely related to how we manage time, and speed of working.
On one hand, there’s the opinion that good things cannot be rushed; on the other, there is the view that everything needs to get done right now. Historically, the situation where the older generations consider the younger one to be lazy - or indolent - keeps repeating itself. Logically. Since prehistoric times, progress has always gone forward, towards a more comfortable way of life.
The younger generation, on the other hand, perceives the older one as rigid and against progress. Young people are often impatient and eager compared to mature people, they get enthusiastic easily, but they aren’t always able to sell their ideas to more senior generations.
The third area is their experience and how it is used. On one side sits the tendency to use proven, tried-and-true, functioning solutions; on the other, the desire to try new things, one of the reasons being that there is nothing to build on, so why not try something new. Older generations see innovation and new technologies as something they have to learn, something that forces them to change routine processes. And again, it doesn’t matter if it’s about using a car, a phone, or 3D technologies. For younger people, new technologies are a natural part of life, something they’ve grown up with. But one day, a time will probably come when they will be less willing to adapt to completely new and different technologies, which will seem strange to them at first. In any case, when it comes to technologies, being older doesn’t necessarily mean being more experienced. On the contrary: younger generations are often way ahead, both in terms of knowledge as well as practical experience. And this creates a space in which people can teach one another.
Mutual teaching gives rise to requirements in another area – communication and communication style. Vocabulary, stylistics, and overall communication methods can vary quite a lot from one generation to the next, which can create an impression of even bigger differences. Even when both parties speak virtually about the same thing, they express themselves in different ways. Communication style is also related to feedback.
On one hand, we have generations for whom feedback means that they’ve done something wrong, and on the other, a generation expecting to be routinely and regularly appreciated. What gives? At the very least, it’s important to take this into account in your management style in order to prevent feelings of frustration on either side.
So, how do you work with a multigenerational team?
If you, as a manager, do not want to slow down your team, you need to develop yourself and move forward as well. Don’t base everything only on your own experience or assumptions. Listen, communicate with everyone, set clear goals, and define expectations, not only procedures. This will help your team focus on a shared goal and not the fact that they are working towards it differently. And at the same time, set rules and reward people based on their real contributions, not their status.
1. Fight age-related prejudices and stereotypes
It’s easy to get carried away by stereotypes. After all, we’ve listed a few of them above, as they relate to four different generations (for example, young people are lazy, old people are rigid). Instead of assuming and supposing, focus on what specific team members do, know, and what they are like.
3. Connect people on the human level as well
Build connections across spontaneously emerging mini-groups of people of similar age. Create opportunities for them to get to know one another outside of work topics.
4. Don’t overlook similarities
It might surprise you, but even though we’ve mostly focused on the differences between generations, members of all generations have much more in common. They want to do work they enjoy, have a fair salary, and have the opportunity to achieve success and satisfaction.
So don’t forget that despite differences, most generations actually want the same things, and this is what connects them.
And always keep in mind that even though everything doesn’t always go smoothly and each generation has its specific characteristics, it is what gives you the chance to build as effective a team as possible. It’s important to simply adjust your point of view and not perceive differences as an obstacle to cooperation, but as an advantage and a source of unique solutions