How to Align a Multi-Generational Team

October 6, 2015



As more office chairs are filled with Instagram users than checkbook balancers, the multi-gen office dynamic is more relevant than ever. This year the 53.5 million Millennials in the workforce outnumber Baby Boomers by over eight million. Older and younger generational workers alike are facing the issues of managing, working with and being managed by, other generations. Communication styles, work values and overall world outlooks are subject to clash when combined. So how do we align a multi-generational team in one single office?

The New Age in Diversity

Heeding directives from someone young enough to be your son can’t be easy. Baby boomers probably like this as much as Gen-Y males like to be called “buddy.” However, as plurals of Gen Y level up to position of manager, many are faced with managing ‘age diverse’ teams. Peter Cappelli, professor of management at the Wharton School sums it up:

Organizational careers don’t look the way they did before. It’s more common to see someone younger managing someone older.”

While this concept isn’t new, it demands revisiting in an age of team-oriented flat organizations. What an opportunity to have each of the five living generations represented at the office! Each one comes with a different background, a different world view and different values. While to some this may sound like a misalignment to overcome, I only see a diversity characteristic to be tapped. Pull tech innovation from the newbies and glean client relationship skills from the veterans. Implement mentoring relationships to encourage more relational thinking rather than traditional hierarchies.

Walkie Talkies

Integrating ‘ways-of-old’ with ‘today’ is not as demanding as one might think. Respecting and acknowledging each generation’s methods and ways of doing this is a way to start.

“Each generation requires different investments of time,” says Jason Dorsey, chief strategy officer at The Center for Generational Kinetics, “with Boomers, the challenges lie in putting in face time and understanding the diplomatic nature of communication, while with Millennials, you have to communicate more frequently and through short written bursts.”

Have something to discuss department-wide? Call for a face-to-face meeting. Keep it short, get to the point and serve breakfast. Appease the traditionalists by holding a physical meeting and actually interacting with human mechanisms like voice and eye contact, but keep it under 30 minutes and assign tangible deliverables to make it ‘worth-while’ for the Millennials. Follow up with continual and related dialogue through work communication apps. The breakfast is there to make everyone happy. Other ideas include walking meetings, a company intranet and consistent feedback tools to replace annual meetings.


Cougars and Cradle Robbers

Generation gaps will always bring differences, but commonalities can always be found between two people, no matter what age. Two developers a generation apart who both love challenges and code, or two sales reps motivated by rewards can be super similar people even if one has grey hair and the other has a pompadour. People can align and relate on much more than “what year were you born.”

Virtuali Research reports that mentorship was identified as the most desired types of training. Put two related people from different generations together and you’ve created a bilateral mentorship akin to the mutualism between a flower and a bee. Take advantage of the learnings that can come from a seasoned professional’s experience mixed with a new-gen worker’s tech prowess. Many companies are doing this through affinity groups, company team outings and more traditional mentorship programs.

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