Leadership tips: Manage multi-generational team
Next time you talk to your parents or your grandparents, pay attention to how you speak with them. How about with your siblings? And if it wasn't an in-person conversation, what communication channels did you use? A phone call, email or text?
It's natural to modify how you speak with people of different age groups.
Now. Imagine a company consisting of employees in their late-teens (interns) to 60-year-olds and beyond (work-life expectancy is rising).
Hence, bridging the workplace generation gap has always been highly relevant in leadership. Manage teams with people of different ages and experiences into cohesive units is the backbone of any great organization.
Generation gap differences
Of course, we are generalizing complex dynamics here. But the main takeaway is that we are unique individuals and with different preferences on how to do our jobs. Therefore a one-size-fits-all approach is never ideal. And now that we've gotten the disclaimer out of the way, here are some ways generations may differ.
Communication style - Typically, while younger generations are more inclined to collaborate, employees in their mid-30s to 40s might take a commanding approach when working with junior colleagues. Older employees that have been at the job for decades might be less willing to interact.
Receptiveness to change - Younger employees or someone new to a company is more likely to consider change as a challenge and an opportunity. While senior members of the team may show reluctance to novel ideas, policies, and strategies. After all, they have been doing things a certain way for years.
Technological competence - Millenials and younger generations grew up with smartphones, social media, and the cloud. Applying and learning new technologies for work comes naturally. On the other hand, older generations are still most comfortable with pen and paper and use mostly emails to share files and information.
Leadership - create a multi-generational culture
Leadership and company culture are effective when they bring together a diverse workforce for a common objective. If employees can't interact with leadership and with each other constructively, you won't create a company culture that allows innovation, collaboration, and extra effort. Below are a few tips for leading a multi-generational organization.
Clear and frequent communication
Everything starts with COMMUNICATION. This is the word you will hear time and again in leadership and management subjects. Compliments, practical feedback, guidance, and open dialogues are essential in enabling mutual understanding and eliminating generational stereotypes. It's the leader's responsibility to genuinely listen and clearly communicate, ensuring the wrong approach isn't forced upon a group of employees.
Mix it up
Take advantage of generational diversity by creating mixed generational teams. Exposure to opinions from different vantage points is one way to expand everyone's horizon. Besides, the best solutions often stem from a fusion of contradicting ideas and thought processes.
Social clicks are unavoidable. We tend to associate with people similar to our own background but be sure to eliminate unnecessary divides based on age that could damage company culture.
I've worked with companies that have mentorship or "work buddy" systems, connecting employees with different experiences and complementary job functions.
The more senior colleague doesn't always take the mentorship role. A younger person can very well have skill sets and knowledge that are share-worthy.
When fresh thinking of the younger generations is combined with the more experienced older generation, it could be the recipe for a positive cultural shift.
An essential leadership quality in managing multi-generational teams is flexibility. Lead by example. Be open to the ever-changing communication technologies. Listen and learn from team members that are both younger and older than you are.
As the leader, if you are stubborn in the ways of your own generation, how do you expect others to keep an open mind?
It's frustrating for those that are asked to make the biggest compromise within a company culture. Ultimately, it's a game of "give and take" between the leader and all stakeholders. Strategic flexibility with a touch of empathy inspires a cohesive workplace to close the generational gap.