We have all heard about the multi-generational employees. We’ve seen it on the local news, heard it on the radio, or even had meetings where someone threw around words like: Baby-boomer, Gen X, Generation Y or Millennials.

Talking about the generational differences has almost become commonplace in nearly every business I’ve encountered over the last few years. Yet, recently the talk has changed somewhat. While facilitating a training class the conversation of multi-generational employees continued to come up, this time with a twist; “How do I get them to work together?” seemed to be on everyone’s mind.

Seeing that this was a topic that obviously needed to be addressed, I decided to ask more questions.

“What sort of opportunities are you encountering?” I asked to the room as a whole, while holding the eye of the latest person to put forth the question.

She immediately responded with “How do I get the multi-generational employees on my team, to work together, and actually BE a TEAM?”

Here’s the opportunity, as I see it.

Usually, there are several opportunities at play:

  1. Many companies have hired ‘Millennials’ who, because the financial crisis, and other factors sometimes have greater educational backgrounds and advantages than many of the more seasoned employees.
    1. As a result, they tend to work on educationally based information.
    2. They tend to be a bit more outspoken
    3. They are sometimes looked upon as rude, (particularly by GEN X), especially when they ask a lot of questions about a workflow or process that doesn’t seem to work.
  2. Generation X employees and managers, you know, the group of American’s who were called ‘Latch-key’ kids, because many of their parents worked, leaving them a list of chores to do, which meant that they managed their own time.
    1. Hate it when asked questions about the work they do, instead of the results they achieve.
    2. Watched their parents, the ‘Boomers’ spend more time at work than home, and have no intention of doing so, (unless the work is really interesting)
    3. Have two phones for a reason. When they are not available, they are really not available. Especially for ‘questions’.
    4. In addition, many of them learned to be managers from the Boomers. Meaning they were handed some pieces of paper, told when to have them done by, and never taught to embrace the upcoming changes in personnel by building a rapport with their constituents.
  3. Many of our Boomers meanwhile, are looking towards retirement.
    1. They have used ‘workarounds’ for many of the problems they have had to face in their companies
    2. When they leave, they will take an entire generation of much-needed Legacy Information with them
    3. And they don’t see it as their job to train the ‘new kids’. They should know what to do already right?

So with all of this going on, how do we get multi-generational employees to work together as a team?

Simple; we have to start treating them as a team. If you were on, say, a baseball team, and one of your highest producers was making plans to leave the team, what would you do? If you’re smart, and you are, you would begin to ask them questions about how they produced. You might even begin to document the improvements they have made in order to teach others.

You would throw out the word: ‘Should’. As in, “they should know what they’re doing.” (When speaking about the Millennials)

You might even split your current team into smaller groups, and give those smaller teams specific workflows, and projects that would give the Boomers an opportunity to share their non-documented knowledge, Generation X the opportunity to put that knowledge into value-driven processes, and then ask the Millennials to help the team look for opportunities to streamline the process. Each team gets to see the ‘why’ of the process, the ‘need’ of the standardization, and the ‘result’ of the workflow, increasing the knowledge of your newest team members, while valuing the seasoned employees.

Some companies are even making this process competitive by giving deadlines for process updates, and prizes for the most cost-effective results. This is just one idea for getting your multi-generational employees to function more effectively!

What have you tried that works?