Early last month I had an opportunity to speak to a group of talented employees in the tour and travel sector. While addressing continuous innovation as subject with a goal of enhancing performance and functionality in their company, we took time to level the base on matters of collaborative and participatory approaches to impactful innovation efforts. Upon familiarizing ourselves with the subject, the majority of the participants could freely air their views albeit in breakout sessions. It was during these sessions that one staff member said something that caught my attention.
“Why are we discussing peripheral challenges about innovation and our role in optimizing value to customers instead of facing ‘the elephant in the room?’”
A common phrase in corporate circles, right? While, except that this time the ‘elephant’ was quite an exciting one, and the young lady was not about to let it go. She expressed her frustration around the not-so-productive working relationship among the various generations at their office. That, the office formed informal teams based on their age brackets. As a result, collaborating with colleagues outside those ‘teams’ was proving uncomfortable, departmental affiliations notwithstanding. Consequently, we found ourselves engrossed in a discussion about respect, priorities, skills, and communication among other office-related issues in the workplace. For example, their Group Head of Operations – a Millennial, couldn’t understand why her direct reports responded to her emails with WhatsApp chats instead of emailing back. As a millennial, I figured out why the good Head of Operations felt worked up. Being a WhatsApp immigrant and an email resident, she believed in the ‘official’ channels of communication while the Gen Z colleague saw WhatsApp as a quick-response channel not only delivering messages faster but also easy to use.
Although this was an ‘off-topic’ item, it shed light on a challenge that is common in today’s workforce: learning how to collaborate with and appreciate the unique preferences, habits, and behaviours of colleagues who grew up in different times than ourselves, but with whom we share space, roles, and visions. I emphasized the reality that a multi-generational workforce brings diverse perspectives, skills, and experiences to the table, which can result in more creativity and innovation.
After my session with the team that evening, I embarked on a journey to understanding multi-generation teams at work, the challenges, and the gains they bring forth.
What challenges do multi-generational teams face?
Diverse career expectations and priorities
Individuals in a multi-generational team represent different life stages. This means they have diverse life expectations – both at work and home, priorities, as well as professional development goals. Take for instance a young Gen Z employee who may seek rapid hybrid career advancement, while an older Millennial colleague may value a stable career with a guaranteed work-life balance.
Working and communicating differently
In the current workspace, generational differences can shape individual preferences regarding how people approach and carry out their work. For example, while Gen X prefers in-office work with fixed office time and interactions, Millennials and Gen Z may be more comfortable with flexible work and video conferencing or instant messaging options. As a manager and leader, you will also notice that your staff might also have different attitudes toward work and organizational culture – from work ethic to leadership preferences. It is your duty to learn how to accommodate all this while keeping the mission in focus.
In some cases, there are possibilities of older employees facing ageist stereotypes such as being seen as resistant to change or lacking in tech skills. Younger staff may be seen as inexperienced or lacking in people skills, commitment, or loyalty to colleagues, teams, and organizations. Quite often these stereotypes can undermine trust and hinder the recognition of individual strengths and contributions. Moreover, preconceived notions and age-related bias may also hamper teamwork, productivity, and efforts to establish and guarantee mental health, safety, and a positive team culture.
What can we consider the gains of working in a multi-generational team?
Sharing diverse skills and experience
Often, younger generations – Millennials and Gen Z often possess up-to-date technological expertise and fresh insights. On the other hand, older workers bring extensive industry knowledge and leadership or people management skills – a critical component of a productively sustainable workforce. Having a pool of employees from different generations enables the sharing of diverse skills while enhancing collaboration, team performance, and overall organizational productivity.
Opportunities for learning and development
Diversity breeds opportunities. Therefore, the more diverse your team is, the more opportunities available for peer learning, mentorship, and coaching. In such instances experienced professionals within the organization can pass on their expertise to younger colleagues, while younger team members can also help others up their tech skills as well as an understanding of younger and upcoming markets. As a result, this creates a culture of continuous learning with far-reaching personal and organizational benefits.
Diversity of perspectives
It is evident – from research that every generation has unique life and work experiences and underlying perspectives of looking at things and the world in general. With such diversity of input, organizations are able to drive creativity and innovation, while making room for problem-solving, and ultimately a broader understanding of cross-generational customer needs.
Favourable return on investments
Businesses exist to make profits. Therefore, a multi-generational team brings forth a combination of different perspectives and skills which in return help organizations to stay agile and competitive, seize opportunities, and respond better to changing market demands. With such they are able to improve performance and achieve success through making better and participatory-based decisions.
In our next article, we shall share insights on how to lead multi-generational teams for optimum productivity at the workplace.
Kirimi Mitambo is a leadership consultant and mentor at Golden Minds Media, and proprietor iLeadKenya & MindMasters Café.