Cross generational team work can allow for an eclectic, but inspired flow of ideas and varying perspectives. However, leaders often struggle with managing such a culturally and often, technologically diverse team. The challenges faced take different forms like clash of authority, inherent biases born out of generalised stereotypes, and so on. And, as a new generation of technological driven Gen Zers enter the workforce, managers will have a tougher time maintaining and empowering inter-generational teams.
Each new generation, from Gen X to Baby Boomers, to even millennials bring very different things to the table. Having grown up in completely different worlds, and influenced by drastic world events, they are often as different as chalk and cheese. What makes it worse is often the age gap between managers and the team members. An age gap like this can not only hinder mutual respect, but also cause miscommunication. This, in turn, can lead to missed opportunities and dissatisfaction amongst the ranks.
So, how can managers learn to lead their age-diverse team members better? And where to start?
Every generation comes with its own attached list of known stereotypes. If baby boomers ( born between 1965-1980 ) are averse to change, millennials are considered entitled. And for a leader managing team members ranging from the ‘change resistant’ baby boomers to allegedly ‘disloyal’ Gen Zers, these labels can be extremely harmful.
With the advancements in media and the ever increasing power of social media, it is easy to fit everyone we come across in a particular box. From the way a person dresses up, to how extroverted they might be – everything either supports or sets a stereotype. However, leaders need to ensure that they don’t fall prey to such generalisations.
Moreover, they need to ensure that every member of their team upholds the same standard when it comes to cross-functional assignments. Senior team members can easily dismiss innovative ideas brought forth by the youngest member, citing a lack of experience. Yet, it is only when every person on the team feels heard and acknowledged, can effective collaboration be achieved.
Such myopic stereotypes not only hinder effective collaboration, but can also adversely impact individual performances. A 2017 study shows that,
“Employees threatened by age-based stereotypes concerning work performance are less able to commit to their current job, less oriented toward long-term professional goals, and are ultimately less adjusted psychologically.”
This, of course, isn’t to say that there doesn’t exist quirks and characteristics unique to each generation. But rather, leaders need to ensure that they don’t judge everyone with the same yard stick. Instead, it is important to educate themselves about what makes each generation unique. Understanding such nuances would allow for better acceptance, and more impactful leadership.
Like with any working relationship, be it personal or professional, communication skills are important in effective team management. This becomes even more profound with a diverse age group. Your employees, whether they are older or younger to you, will not be able to understand your preferences or decision making process on their own. As a leader, it is your job to ensure that all your interactions transparent and invite questions. It is also equally important for you to watch out for any missing links among your team’s dialogues.
For example, it’s common for senior team members to override or dismiss the inputs from their younger counterparts. This is usually cited to their lack of experience, and the senior’s sense of entitlement. This can lead to the younger team members feeling left out, and eventually uninspired. Similarly, the younger lot can often criticise the decisions made by their senior colleagues, based on a lack of perspective they possess. Both these cases can lead to a decline in team productivity, by impacting the inter-personal relationships. Thus, as a leader you need to watch out for such instances and guide your team members accordingly.
The organsiaitonal landscape has changed drastically over the last few years. With the increased awareness towards diversity and inclusion, topics and conversations have evolved tremendously. A host of conversations that’s Allier would have been considered taboo not only happen openly, but are encouraged. However, this can also mean conflict and disagreement amongst your team members. Senior employees may find themselves feeling uncomfortable talking about things that millennials and Gen Z considers normal, or even necessary.
And, as a leader your job is to ensure that neither the younger lot, nor the old guard feels disrespected or dismissed. The effective way of enabling this would be to have open and quality rich conversations about the organisation’s values and your stand on social and moral topics. This will set a standard for all your employees to look up to, and adhere with.
Remember, it is not important for every team member to agree with the values or notions. But you need to clarify the organisation’s collective stand on things. Having diverse opinions is not only to be expected, but rather should be invited. Psychological safety needs to be your utmost priority. Be it gender sensitive conversations, or acknowledgment of racial privileges, your team needs to feel comfortable talking about things. Your personal set of values and ethics can also serve as a beacon of inspiration.
You need to work towards creating a safe and healthy environment for your entire team. One the inspires and enables a healthy exchange of ideas and risk taking attitude. Only when ideas clash can innovative outcomes be achieved.
Gerhardt, director of Leadership Development at Miami University’s Farmer School of Business and author of Gentelligence says,
“People come to these conversations with different experiences and varying levels of willingness to engage. The role of the manager is to provide ongoing opportunities to have these discussions — not to force people to a particular point of view or to check a box.”
Inter-generational team management is tricky. And often, it can turn into a ‘me vs them’ contest, with no clear winners. Biases born out of stereotypes and a lack of mutual respect can turn your team members against each other. As a leader, you need to make sure that senior colleagues give their younger counterparts the due respect, and credibility. Similarly, it is important for the younger members to respect and appreciate the guidance and a difference in perspective that only age and experience can provide.
Organisations and world leaders continue to shine a light on how to better bridge the generational gap. The key ingredients include efficient communication and deep rooted humility. It also requires a healthy curiosity about the strengths and limitations of our team members and ourselves. And that can only be achieved by accepting the differences that define us. These differences are what allow for valuable insights for growth.