How to Lead a Multigenerational Team

Age diversity offers real advantages, but you have to make sure the generations have the tools to understand one another.

When executives look around today’s conference room table, they find themselves joined by individuals from a diverse array of backgrounds, experiences, and—now especially—ages. The workforce today now spans five generations, from Traditionalists to Generation Z. Some may view this as a hindrance to productivity or a potential source of conflict. But these differences can be a competitive advantage if executives are willing to change how they lead.

The newest entrants to the work force prefer decentralized management and shared leadership, where key decisions are made as part of a group process across the company. This collaborative style of work actually gives employees the opportunity to learn from each other’s different generational perspectives—and great things can happen as a result.

Foster Effective Communication

When it comes to business communication, generational differences can be stark. More experienced workers like to conduct their business through the phone or via face-to-face networking, while younger workers are adept at communicating with each other through Slack and other social platforms.

Both methods have their advantages. New media is good for getting a message out quickly and to a wide audience. Workplace communication tools like Slack allow a large team, including those in different offices or working remotely, to quickly communicate with each other easily and instantly. And social media these days isn’t just a platform for workplace updates and customer service—it’s also a vital way of fostering a workplace culture.

But new tools must be combined with traditional communication methods. More personalized, one-on-one interaction is vital to develop meaningful relations in the workplace. By talking with someone deeply, you can evaluate their style of working, build trust, and better understand their perspective on business matters.

Ultimately, good business leaders must be willing to broaden their communications skillset and adapt to new methods of sharing information. But most importantly, they must understand the unique communication style of each individual with whom they work.

Meet Them Where They Are

A recent survey of U.S. workers found that older generations were more likely to be motivated by personal fulfillment, while younger workers sought career advancement and skill-building from their work. This dynamic can be used in powerful ways: senior executives can be put in charge of spearheading projects that are meaningful for them, while giving younger employees an opportunity to try something new.

At the core of this organizational method is a universal concept: workplace motivation is best fostered when people lead for themselves and learn on their own. Whatever generation you’re working with, think of your role not as appealing to your employees’ motivations but as helping to create them.

Take Advantage of the Range of Perspectives 

One of the most effective but overlooked assets of a multigenerational team is its ability to effectively target different audience segments. Simply put, employees of different generations will have a better understanding of their own generation’s thoughts and desires. If you have a message to get to your customers, or news to share with clients, it’s important that you get perspective from multiple generations. And if you do want to communicate with a certain age range, make sure you have people from that age range represented when you form your strategy.

One way to facilitate perspectives from different generations is to emphasize that each voice in the company, whether it comes from the C-suite or from the intern pool—is equally important. Set up meetings where everyone has a chance to speak, and where it’s clear that ideas will not be judged based on their intrinsic quality—and not by the seniority of the person making them.