A multi-generational team can be a nightmare or a blessing. Leverage the differences and you have a recipe for success. Don't and you'll have squandered time, performance, and problems constantly flaring up.
For the astute manager looking to motivate their multi-generational team, understanding the nuances of each generation's work styles, communication patterns, and values is key. A well-managed multi-generational team gives many business benefits: enhanced innovation, diverse perspectives, and increased efficiency.
But with Boomers staying in the workforce longer, Gen Xers rising to power, and tech-savvy Millennials entering the U.S. workforce in droves, many companies are at a loss at how to properly motivate their multi-generational teams to reap these benefits.
I have worked in multi-generational teams and co-collaborated with older generation consultants through my company, Workplace Collaborations. I know the inter-generational issues that pop up can be real headaches to manage. I have also seen, though, when properly managed, those same generational differences can actually lead to the group's success.
Based on my experiences this is how you too can motivate a multi-generational team:
UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCES
Honestly, there is no magic formula.
Each generational cohort came of age during different life events that radically shaped their perspective of the world and their work behaviors. A leader of a multi-generational team will have to be aware of these differences, learn how to spot them, and engage the people involved mindfully if he or she is to properly motivate their multi-generational team.
Side-by-side these are the characteristics that make each generation who they are:
Product of the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam War, and Cold War
Democratic orientation to the world focused on accomplishing the "big picture"
Direct and open communication pattern that values a "Work, and then you die" ethos
Product of the Fall of Berlin Wall, the AIDS epidemic, and the advent of computers
Prefer an open and informal leadership style that is balanced, inviting feedback from those around them in the workplace
They have a "Life first, work second" ethos
Product of the Dot-com bust, 9/11, and the Great Recession
Aspire for creative yet inclusive workplaces that value collaboration and innovative thinking
Talk to them as equals
"Work as part of lifestyle" ethos
Vastly different circumstances, as well as different perspectives on how each generation sees life and work, is what causes most inter-generational conflicts to ensue. When an issue does pop up, managers will have to acknowledge the difference if their team is to succeed.
Acknowledge the differences
When inter-generational conflict happens, it's usually because of a clash in how each generation views a problem or issue.
For example, if a Boomer is arguing with a Millennial that the company planning process has always worked and produced the intended result it was meant to achieve, the Boomer's mindset of achieving the "big picture" is what is underlying his or her argument. The Millennial, who values creative and innovative thinking, wants to see if there is simply a better way of doing it, but is rebuffed by the Boomer.
Overtime, if constantly shut down, the Millennial will grow resentful, leading to either sabotaging behaviors or their exit from the company.
Interestingly, the "let me speak up because I have something to contribute" mindset that many Millennials are scolded for having is there because of Boomers. Boomers came of age during a time of great social upheaval in the United States. The expansion of civil liberties, and a war that was not popular domestically, lead Boomers to adopt attitudes that were open and receptive.
And when it came to child rearing, their children, the Millennials, were taught to be open and receptive too, had multiple opportunities to achieve their creative ambitions, were allowed to voice their opinions at an early age, and told you could be anything you wish to be. For all their groans against Millennial's work behaviors, it is Boomers we have to thank for how Millennials actually behave in the workplace. Because of their child rearing, we now have a generational group that feels their contributions are just as valid as those around them - and that can actually be a good thing!
Proactive conflict management of inter-generational issues simply requires that leaders from the get-go acknowledge that these differences will occur and to implore the affected members to talk about it as equals. And should that not resolve the issue, the team lead should get involved, facilitating a neutral conversation that doesn't take sides but points team members in acknowledging the business benefits of them working together.
Better to nip something in the bud then have it spiral out of control, potentially derailing a project, since small issues have a way of snowballing into bigger problems down the road.
LEVERAGE THE DIFFERENCES
Now that the team lead has an inkling of what is causing the inter-generational problem. it is time for him or her to leverage that difference for team success.
Here's an example:
Maria is the project lead of a six person multi-generational team that includes two Millennials, one Boomer or three Gen Xers. They are charged with marketing a fitness watch for FitRu that is slated for launch in six months.
The Millennials throw out the idea of a massive social media campaign that includes leveraging influencers on Snapchat and Instagram to drive publicity. They believe there is potential there to engage a new market.
The Boomer and one Gen Xer, however, believe a traditional ad campaign would work better since their market audience is people 35 and up (who would presumably be buying the product for their children). The remaining Gen Xers believe a mixture of both would lead to the best results. Maria agrees that a plan that uses both traditional and new media sources for a marketing campaign would be best for FitRu to use.
One month into the project, a problem arises. The Millennials seem downtrodden. Progress on the traditional ad campaign is going excellent but little traction has been achieved with the social media campaign. Maria decides to engage the team to see what is up. The Millennials quickly speak up, saying they've been given inadequate resources to achieve their aim, which Maria doesn't believe is true. However, she instead asks them: "What do you believe could help you achieve your intended results?" Their solution: more help and monetary resources.
By keeping it open-ended, Maria allowed the Millennials on the team to feel included in the solution. It is up to her to see whether the solution is the right fit for the circumstances at hand but underlying this is the understanding that Millennials like to be spoken to as if equals in the process. Should the problem persist, and cause issues rolling out the product, Maria needs to facilitate conversations between the affected members that get to the root of the problem without taking sides.
Bottom Line: for the team lead that is looking to motivate an intergenerational team, leveraging the differences for team success requires a thorough understanding of what makes the generations different and acknowledging them appropriately. It does take some patience, but it's worth it if the team syncs up and synergy thrives amongst its members, leading to team success!