At Insite, I’ve been successfully managing a multi-generational marketing and customer experience team for quite some time. As a member of Generation Jones I’ve been in this situation before. Now, with GenZennials entering the workforce I’m reading more and more about the “challenges” associated with teams that include both Rolling Stones fans and SnapChat devotees.
In this post I’ll provide some of the lessons I’ve learned working with and managing multiple generations. More than anything else, I believe it takes a fundamental shift from a hierarchical to a collaborative mindset – for the manager as well as every member of the team.
But first, I think it’s important to understand why we’re different – and where every human being is the same. Each generation in the workforce has a unique set of shared experiences, it’s true. But studies show that people of every generation tend to want the same basic things. Shared values like fair pay, respect, development opportunities and work-life balance are common among my team members no matter their age.
According to the largest global generation study ever conducted, by experts at the University of Southern California and London Business School, Baby Boomers and Gen Xers tend to focus on having more control over their work, better pay and development opportunities. Millennials typically focus on flexibility, team cohesion and support and appreciation by their supervisors. It’s important to first let go of stereotypes like “difficult” millennials and “inflexible” Baby Boomers. Instead, understand how your individual team players prioritize those values and work toward that when it comes to incentives and reviews.
The benefits of having a diverse team in terms of age and experience are phenomenal. Getting that team to work together cohesively takes a few tweaks. Here are my tips for managing a successful multi-generational team:
- Reinforce continuous learning. Just because a worker is “older” doesn’t mean they know more than their younger counterpart. Fostering an environment where learning is more important than knowledge means that collectively, your team becomes stronger as each individual seeks to learn what he or she can from the other.
- Embrace multiple communications methods. At Insite, we float seamlessly between Slack, email, Web conferences and the good old telephone. Although Boomers are known for embracing more “live” methods of communication, that doesn’t mean Millennials don’t want to use those methods. They’re just more focused on making sure those live moments are meaningful. Face it, the younger you are the more your water cooler conversation occurs on social media, not via email or phone.
- Get rid of traditional meetings. The GenX generation is known for adaptability and independence (they’re mostly latch-key kids, remember) and value a flexible workplace without a reliance on constant meetings. Using the Agile framework with daily, quick Stand Up Meetings has been a godsend for us. It satisfies my need for status, the GenXer’s need for flexibility, and the Millennial’s desire for frequent and detailed feedback in the workplace.
- Provide feedback based on individual teammates’ preferences. Generational expert Lindsey Pollack says most generations have the same basic needs – pay satisfaction, fulfilling work, flexibility, and the ability to advance and thrive in the workplace – the level of importance placed on these things varied by generation. Baby boomers and Generation Jonesers like me need to know that we have control over our work. Millennials want flexibility and team cohesion. GenZennials (those born in 1996 or later) want to feel like they’re making a contribution and are as important as the rest of the team. Tailoring feedback to the needs of the individual teammate instead of providing the same review for everyone is important to meeting the needs of the team overall.
- Generating an environment of respect. I believe that as a leader, my job is to support my team to do its very best. But that means each and every team member has to respect their unique skillsets and capabilities. And that goes back to building a collaborative, rather than a hierarchical structure. No member is “better” than the other because of age or experience, or even role for that matter. Each person fulfills an important, unique duty within our team.
- Beware of the egotists. The last tip I’ll leave you with is that when someone doesn’t fit into this structure, it can throw a giant monkey wrench into the entire operation. When interviewing for staff, I look for things like humility, examples of teamwork, and an eagerness to learn rather than a desire to display knowledge. This has led me to make some unconventional hiring decisions, as I’m sure my own boss would attest to. In the long run, attitude is much more important than aptitude.
Managing a team comprised of individuals across multiple generations may take a little extra effort but it is worth it in the end. When we can all come together, despite generational differences, and play to our unique strengths while working toward our shared goals, we can achieve success.