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The vital tension: Managing multi-generational teams
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Herb Greenberg
Herb Greenberg

According to a recent Fortune article by Colleen Leahy, more than 13 million workers will be 65 and older by 2022. That’s up 7.3 million from today. Currently, more than one-third of the US workforce is made up of Baby Boomers. What role does the ongoing presence of post-retirement-aged workers play in the effectiveness - and the motivation - of intergenerational teams?

This dynamic can be either a source of conflict or it can lead to cooperation, collaboration and a more balanced team. For leaders, the differences that intergenerational teams bring to the workplace can be an asset in creating a varied idea exchange as well as a source of innovation.

CBS Money Watch recently quoted a blog post by Careerealism, a career management blog. “By having a multi-generational workforce, blind spots can be avoided to a large degree. A clear example is the issue of technology. The young bulls (of whichever gender) want to have technology, technology and more technology. The older bulls (of either gender) can put a quash on making the company technology based for technology's sake. This vital tension means that essential technology will be implemented, but non-essential technology will not – at least ideally.

Also, younger workers are more likely to take risks that can benefit the company if there is a safety net of older workers to catch them if they fall. Conversely, older workers can rapidly fall behind the times and be beat by competitors if they don't keep up. A multi-generational workforce lets each generation do what they do best, without a fear that something will be missed. This leads to greater creativity and a better flow of ideas within the company.” (Stillman, 2011)*

This vital tension creates an opportunity for team members, of all ages, to share their own unique perspectives, approach each problem differently, and offer solutions that may have not been considered before. So as a result, among those differences lies a common ground: the common project or company goal toward which each team member strives. And each team member is pivotal is balancing the other out.

Understanding each person’s personality creates a gateway into their work style and problem solving methods. A focus on individual values and personality, as opposed to generalizations about groups, is the foundation for unleashing the power of diversity in the workplace. Unlocking the inherent strengths of each team member can provide an opportunity to create a work plan that can further drive success in a multigenerational team.

This type of discussion facilitates team development. The important thing to know about team development, especially in a diverse team, is that nothing is a quick fix. Development is ongoing – it should begin with the current team or at the time of hire and continue throughout the company indefinitely. It isn’t until the company embraces team development as part of its culture that a team can be truly effective.

For example, perhaps your team meets once a month to go over both past and upcoming projects and how they efficiently moved forward or were delayed as a result of clashing personalities. The team can then go over its strengths and come up with streamlined processes, together with their manager, to ensure that the team works even more effectively moving forward.

When leaders present such processes as growth opportunities, it will help to engage employees. Team development can be customized and tied directly to your company’s goals and objectives – both for revenue growth and employee retention.

The implications from Fortune’s article are endless, but there is one thing that is for certain: no matter the company or the industry, in cases where employees are working in multigenerational teams, it’s imperative to implement team development programs. Leaders have to understand who makes up the team, from a personality perspective, and use those insights to understand what each individual brings to the table.

And with regard to organizational strategy, it’s important to pinpoint potential team issues before they become detractors to productivity – which is where leaders can implement team discussions around projects, whether they are weekly, monthly, or quarterly.

Older employees can offer endless value and experience to their companies and younger workers coming into the workforce can bring fresh perspectives on age-old processes. To keep up in a world that changes minute by minute requires an investment in the people that will take your company forward – as well as an understanding of how each unique individual contributes to your bottom line, regardless of their age.

*Stillman, Jessica. “Why Multi-Generational Teams are Best.” CBS Money Watch. June 20, 2011.

About Caliper - For nearly half a century, Caliper has been helping companies achieve peak performance by advising them on hiring the right people, managing individuals most effectively and developing productive teams. The accuracy, objectivity and depth of our consulting approach enable us to provide solutions that work for over 25,000 companies. To find out more about how Caliper can help you identify and develop people who can lead your organization to peak performance, please visit us at www.calipercorp.com  or call us at 609-524-1200. Email editorial@mhwmag.com to contact Herb or Patrick.
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