Trouble Collaborating? How to Make It Work in Intergenerational Teams
If you’re a Baby Boomer, you may have profoundly different expectations and practices about work and workplaces than other generations. Millennials, those born between 1980 and 1995, get a particularly bad rap from Boomers for being riveted to their smartphones at the expense of face-to-face communication, living with their parents at an age when Boomers had gone out on their own and preferring telecommuting on a computer to a presence in the office.
It isn’t only Millennials who are generationally different from Baby Boomers at work, though. Generation X, those born between 1960 and 1979, grew up at a time when authority was being questioned left and right (think Vietnam and Watergate). Despite the fact that Boomers are associated with the sex, drugs and rock n’ roll of the 1960s, Boomers’ growing-up years were generally stable politically. It was Generation X who bore the brunt of questioning authority. Knowing how things can fall apart, they tend to like efficiency and practicality in the workplace.
Your potential colleagues aren’t limited to those two age cohorts. Given the skyrocketing cost of living, many older workers keep their jobs past the age of 65. They are the Traditionalists, born 1933 to 1945. In their day, a job was to be kept at all costs, and hierarchies were rigidly maintained.
These differences in the workplace can cause friction among generations. Despite the differences in approaches to workplaces, though, collaboration is essential to good working relationships and productivity. When project managers are asked to pinpoint what causes projects to fail, 30 percent cite inadequate or poor collaboration.
Good communication and respect are essential to good collaboration, and it’s precisely good communication and respect that might be flying out the window if generational differences are allowed to become negative issues. Here are three ways to collaborate with all the age groups in your office.
Acknowledge and Work With Differences
A lot of tension can be released if generational differences and preferences are acknowledged. Generational stereotypes may be true. As a baby boomer, you might prefer to have meetings around a conference table rather than via Skype or text. Your Millennial colleague might have new ideas for a Facebook campaign that seems overly oriented to pictures as far as you’re concerned.
It may help to keep an eye out for generational preferences and to discuss them. If you’re a manager, for example, you might notice that Generation X’ers thrive on email, Millennials are highly productive in a telecommute position that allows them to manage your social media and Boomers and Traditionalists flourish in the direct communication of a physical office. There is no need for a one-size-fits-all approach. Make note of these differences and work productively with them.
For More: Gen X and Y – Like Oil and Water?
Set up Mentorship Programs
Studies have shown that Millennials especially like mentorship programs. They’re tailor-made to foster collaborative relationships.
Why? Generational differences in a workplace can cause misunderstanding and frustration. They allow stereotypes (“Boomers don’t understand technology” or “Millennials are addicted to their phones and can’t look me in the eye”) to take root, grow and fester.
Pairing people of different generations in mentorship programs allows each generation to work with and help the other. Both people build respect for different experiences and outlooks. After all, Baby Boomers have much experience to offer, while Generation X and Millennials have had rough roads with the recession and 9/11. Understanding the other’s point of view can only help.
In addition, if the stereotypes are true, mentorship can help. Perhaps a Millennial who understands everything a smartphone and its multitude of apps can do can show a Boomer things they never dreamed possible, like faster ways to create budget projections and ways to access Word documents as you powerwalk.
Sounds good, right?
It cuts both ways. Millennials have a reputation for needing and expecting open and transparent communication. As much as corporations may strive toward transparency, though, they can’t always achieve it. This tends to frustrate Millennials, who may not know how to negotiate workplaces. A Boomer can give Millennials good advice on when to expect transparency and positive feedback — and when to know it may not be forthcoming.
Generation X may be having difficulty managing growing families and workplaces. A mentorship program can give them advice on juggling responsibilities from Boomers and pointers on increasing productivity through technology from Millennials.
Goodies for All
Companies are making every attempt to make workplaces more friendly to Millennials. After all, they constitute one-third of the workforce right now. Businesses are offering flex time, the option to work from home and fitness classes at the workplace because they are attractive to Millennials.
It is important, though, to make it clear that these goodies are available to all workers, and to emphasize that the new workplace benefits all.
Working with three or four age groups in one company and collaborating effectively can be tough. Through management that acknowledges differences, mentorship programs and making benefits associated with Millennials available to all workers, you can make collaboration a reality and a strong force in your company.
This post was written by Career expert and blogger Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks, a site for professionals about finding happiness and success in life and at work. Subscribe to Sarah’s newsletter and follow her on social media for more advice to grow your career. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn andPinterest.
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