The business world provides an incredible opportunity to unite the strength of multiple generations. Millennials, Gen X-ers, and Baby Boomers all bring unique attributes and styles to the workplace, and thus to departments, units, and project teams. These generational differences can be a source of progress and innovation as well as the cause of disruption and tension at times. Aligning multiple generations is no easy task, but to be successful, leaders should develop a talent for balancing their teams and building upon strengths.
A key ingredient in intergenerational success is unity, which requires clearly defining a group’s vision and keeping it at the forefront at all times. Your vision should be closely intertwined with the mission of the organization, although they’re separate things. An organization’s mission is a core purpose that doesn’t change; it’s what brings employees together, leading to the alignment and realignment of teams. Your mission is the basis for your vision, which is what teams desire to achieve at some point in the future. Your vision can change based on the organization’s needs, but in general it serves as the catalyst for carrying out the mission. Everyone in your organization must understand your larger mission, the more specific vision, and the priorities of each team—a formula that cultivates a culture motivated to engage in productive, problem-solving conversations.
Reminding an imbalanced team of its larger purpose—its vision and mission—can have noticeable impact on the whole organization. By aligning everyone around a common purpose and similar goals, it is possible to focus on bridging individuals across generations.
Let me offer an example from the industry I work in every day: healthcare. Let’s say that a multi-generational task force has been put together within a health system to increase overall patient satisfaction. There are bound to be varied, and even contentious, opinions on the task force as to how to accomplish this goal. The fact that the group has a greater vision—one focused on improving patient care, which all team members can rally around—will help defuse tension and maintain unity.
Oftentimes, tension—especially intergenerational—occurs when individuals don’t fully appreciate or understand other points of view. In such cases, senior leaders should be role models for younger employees, making an effort to be transparent and edifying. When team members understand why they’re being asked to do something, they’re more willing to want to do it. Supervisors can reinforce a message or an assignment by tying it back to the bigger picture: “Here’s why I’m asking you to do this, and this is how it helps us meet our immediate goals in the department and the greater goals of the firm.” Tell a story of how everything fits together. This isn’t something that needs to be done every time, but it should be a regular reminder to keep people engaged.
Not everything can be solved this way; sometimes individual team members will feel and act differently even though both sides are trying to do what’s in line with the unified vision. A Millennial and a Baby Boomer may have different philosophies, approaches, and perceptions, but when a clearly defined vision exists, generational differences more often turn out to be intergenerational strengths.