By Nicole Bendaly
Diversity, when capitalized on, gives teams a big leg up. It provides a mix of perspectives and experience that generates energy and better ways of doing things—most simply put, a higher level of performance.
Fortunately, it is not uncommon to find diversity within teams these days, as more and more people are working alongside team members who represent two, if not three, generations different from their own. But this enriching ingredient can also present challenges. Differences in values and points of view can make for a challenging work environment, certainly toughening a team’s ability to reach a consensus but also potentially creating tension between team members over expectations of behavior and work practices.
The trick to thriving as a leader of a multi-generational team is to know where to focus your energy so your team is energized by their differences and members can work in sync. The following two leadership practices will launch the habits a multi-generational team needs to be at their best.
Practice 1: Build respect and trust for diversity of thought and approach.
Team members take their cues from their leader. If the leader isn’t demonstrating that they value, trust and welcome new ideas and different ways of working, the team itself will not follow suit. A multi-generational team brings with it a unique competitive advantage that can reap greater innovation, enhanced creativity, richer decisions and, ultimately, superior performance. The catch is the leader must tap such a team’s diverse wealth of knowledge, experiences and approaches. This requires going beyond simply asking for input; members need to see the leader thoughtfully considering team members’ input and providing an opportunity for the open expression of differing takes on issues. Respect and trust are built when people see evidence that their team members, as well as their leader, value their perspectives.
- Explore new ideas through dialogue.
For example, when an out-of-the-box idea is shared that doesn’t represent how things are typically done, take time to explore the idea, its merits, how it might work and its potential impact (good and bad). By demonstrating that you are listening and open to the team’s ideas, you are also modeling your expectation of members’ behavior with one another. This not only builds trust and respect within the team but also leads to greater innovation, increased collaboration and far better decisions.
- Revamp your team meetings.
If your meetings are primarily focused on updates and information sharing, you are not tapping the best of your multi-generational team. The bulk of your meeting time should be devoted to open discussion. Ensure time on every agenda for team members to learn from one another, get input from one another, ask questions of one another and brainstorm together.
Practice 2: Build cohesion.
Cohesiveness is one of the seven traits of a high performance team and requires two things: agreement and commitment to what the team is working toward and how the team will achieve it. The how refers to the team’s priorities, values and processes for achieving the goal. In multi-generational teams, it is common for members to have differing expectations and values regarding how work is done. Essential to building cohesion is creating the opportunity for team members to share how they prefer to work and why their method makes sense to them. When done well, this process lays a foundation of understanding that’s required for the cohesion necessary to form a strong team. Once there is greater understanding, the team is able to go on to add increased respect and take the next step of agreeing to the behaviors and practices most important to achieving the team’s goals.
- Clarify expectations.
Dedicate a team meeting to sharing work preferences with the goal of understanding and respecting each other’s needs. This dialogue can be sparked by team members completing and sharing the following sentence: “In order to work at my best, I’d appreciate it if my teammates would ________ because _______.”
Keep in mind that this type of dialogue requires trust that the environment is one where it’s safe to speak up. It is essential for team members and the leader to approach this dialogue with open minds and the willingness to truly understand each other’s perspectives.
- Develop team agreements.
Invite team members to share practices that, if more present within the team, would lead to greater cohesion. Use the following question to spark a dialogue: “What do we need to do in order to work even more effectively together?” Bring the team to consensus on the top five practices the team agrees to live by. Hold the team accountable to the agreements by reviewing them monthly and asking, “How are we doing living up to these?”
Each practice you adopt will push forward the process of moving the people you lead from a group of people to a vital team. Once members begin to capitalize on their differences, they will not only be able reach a higher level of performance but also find their workplace a more enjoyable and enriching place to be.