There’s a wonderful quote by George Orwell that goes, “Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.”
This age-based egocentrism is at the root of the imagined generational divide that can often work against productivity in the workplace. But there are steps we can take to work across the differences and collaborate toward greater efficiencies.
The reality in today’s workplace is that it’s quite common for workers to represent a fifty-year age range or more, which means an increased likelihood that we are all working alongside co-workers who represent multiple generations. And while there may be some common historical experiences that define each generation, focusing on imagined differences most often proves to be counterproductive.
In a recent Diversity Executive article, I offered five practices that can promote cross-generational collaboration, and help workers bridge that divide. To be more inclusive, leaders should:
- Question assumptions about generational differences. Leaders must encourage other workers to challenge age stereotypes, treating each person as an individual, and not as representative of an entire generation.
- Explore commonalities among age groups. The problem with interactions that are based on stereotypes is that we fill in missing information with assumptions that are often incorrect. Instead, leaders should help team members focus on common goals and purposes.
- Maximize each person’s strengths. An effective leader should explore each team member’s unique combination of past experiences and present interests. This may ultimately help the individual reach personal goals, while helping the team meet business objectives.
- Bridge the divide. Leaders who encourage generationally diverse work teams help to promote idea sharing among employees who wouldn’t normally have opportunities to interact. This can be an extremely valuable experience.
- Rise to the challenges. Leaders should also challenge employees with new projects, holding each team member accountable for treating co-workers fairly and without bias.
It should be obvious by now that entire generations are not more intelligent or wiser than others. Rather, their experiences and unique insights add value to all organizations. Therefore, a fundamental goal for every employee should be to remember that we each have something to give and something to gain from every collaborative experience in the workplace, whether intra-generational or inter-generational.
The end result of this will be a group of workers devoted to dialogue, sharing and innovation.
Sharon Daniels is CEO of AchieveGlobal in Tampa, Florida