How to Get the Graduates and Old Guard Collaborating on Your Team

Thursday 20 February 2020
Different generations have different approaches to communication. Get them talking, and you can develop richer and more innovative collaborations
street and grass

We are now living in an age in which four generations are working on the same teams; the Baby Boomer generation is choosing to work for longer (see CMI’s Society Transformed discussion paper), as Gen Z starts to enter the workforce.

While we are all guilty of generational pigeonholing from time to time, there is some truth beyond the stereotypes when it comes to generational differences. Much of this is borne out of the technological changes we’ve seen over the past 40 years. The speed of change has increased exponentially in that time, meaning that Gen Z and younger members of the Millennial generation have completely different technological experiences to older people from the same generation. So how do you get them all to collaborate?

Phyllis Weiss Haserot makes the argument in her book, You Can’t Google It!, that these cultural and technological factors heavily influence the communication styles of each generation. It also has an impact on expectations. “Others’ perspectives [are] formed by economic, social, political, and cultural influences and the personal experiences that combine to define them. That is the essential definition of a ‘generation’– more significant than year of birth.”

Understand Each Generation

  • According to Weiss Haserot, Boomers have a “driven work ethic, optimistic outlook, and a ‘pay your dues’ path to promotion”.
  • Gen Xers are “self-reliant, have a sceptical outlook, and are loyal to projects and people, not employers”.
  • Millennials: “crave quick and frequent feedback, can multitask and are team players, but individualistic”.
  • Gen Zers have an “entrepreneurial spirit, like to work independently, and are always connected, but like in-person communication”.

These definitions, while not universal to every member of each generation, provide a foundational understanding of where each member of your team is coming from, depending on their age.

Set A Clear, Common Goal

Haserot says that great cross-generational communication starts with a common purpose. If you set clear goals, you create shared experience. It’s a foundation on which you can build greater collaboration.

Keep the door open for all employees to give feedback into what is or isn’t working at the company and why. This creates a sense of individual value in the context of a collective goal.

Engage Directly With Your Differences

“Few organisations, whether private sector, public, or nonprofit, have created the awareness or initiatives that support the business case for promoting age/generational diversity – the most universal diversity factor, since everyone has an age,” Weiss Haserot explains.

Help your team understand how they each differ, and how their roles interconnect. CMI’s Code of Conduct outlines the importance of supporting colleagues to understand their responsibilities, areas of authority and accountability. By having open discussions, you can help to nurture these mutually respectful relationships.

Keep An Open Mind – And Be Positive

If you go into the situation expecting things to be difficult, you’ve created a self-fulfilling prophecy. By having an open mind and assuming the relationship will start on the right foot, chances are that it will. You may be expected to set the tone with your interactions with older or younger colleagues.

“With the internet at their fingertips, that is the first place they instinctively go for information; there’s a ton of data out there,” writes Weiss Haserot. “However, to function at a high level, we seek the knowledge and wisdom that requires first-hand experience. You can’t google that.”

If some younger workers prefer to email rather than call or approach you directly, make sure they know you are approachable. Make a point of going over to them and talking through their query in person.

As this may well be their first ever job, they may need some direction on how to behave and communicate in your working environment; be a positive role model that sets an example for how they can interact with others going forward.

For more helpful communication tips, including articles on how to manage different personality types in your team, CMI members can access a wealth of resources on ManagementDirect.

In a recent survey, 97% of graduates studying with CMI learned the necessary skills for a successful career – so much so that 87% of graduates were in full-time employment after graduation with an average salary of £30k. See all the benefits of a CMI-accredited course here.