Leadership: Collaborating Across Generational Cohorts

Based on my birth date I am a confused Baby Boomer/Gen-Xer, because I sit in both camps depending on what study defines the age range for each generational cohort.  By my self-assessment, I primarily identify with the characteristics of the Gen-Xer.  However, no one fits all stereotypes, and I see my profile as a bell curve with my tails in the Boomer and Millennial camps.  What concerns me most about the current workplace dynamics is the lack of collaboration and appreciation that cohorts have for one another.  Has there ever been such an emotionally charged divide?

How Technology Impacts Generational Cohorts Attributes and Collaboration

Studies show that having the authority and left to their own preferences, people promote and invite into their ranks those who have similar values, interests, and styles.  What might this mean for all employees?  The likely assumption would be more cohort division and clustering of similar thinking and approaches.  When these dynamics are interwoven with current communication platforms, one would naturally forecast that there would be fewer cohorts sitting across the table from one another.  Does technology allow shared-thinking groups the ability to silo themselves and hang onto preconceived ideas and stereotypes?  Would the absence of web-meetings, working remotely, iPhones, call-in conferencing, etc. force the generations to collaborate and appreciate each other more?

No doubt, technology has expanded the width of our network, yet has it come at the expense of the depth in our relationships?  Companies bring more colleagues together through technology platforms, yet have they invested the corresponding resources to foster effective collaboration?

How to Build Bridges toward Collaboration

How can generations learn to appreciate and collaborate more with each other to deliver superior solutions?  Part of the answer involves understanding the impact of mindset.  Will people hang onto their beliefs and look for evidence to support how they feel, or will they choose to engage, brainstorm, and build a superior team?

Where would one start? First, acknowledge that technology will continue to be a force that shapes team collaboration across all cohorts. Second, appreciate that generational cohorts are shaped by their macros experiences that form their worldview. Third, be cognizant that people are individuals and some do not hold the same characteristics of their birthed cohort. Fourth, choose to respect and actively work with each style to extract the best of what it can contribute to the situation.

Gen CommunicationAs the table suggests, cohorts’ preferences differ in what and how to communicate, problem-solve, decide, and lead.  Most would agree that good communication is a key competency in influencing outcomes and achieving goals; therefore, colleagues need to answer three questions regarding their communication: (1) how much, (2) how to, and (3) to whom.

Given how technology has expanded access to information and communication platforms,  it should come as no surprise how cohorts’ styles and mediums have evolved.  Baby Boomers have a more guarded view of information and prefer face-to-face communication; whereas, Millennials are more collaborative and utilize social media to communicate information. Each style has its merits and drawbacks.  Millennials readily share information so teams can make decisions.  Baby Boomers prefer to make more decisions within their peer group and inform the team.  The argument could be made that the Millennials’ preferred communication style lends itself to better decision-making because of its increased diversity and inclusion.  However, the drawback is the increased risk that sensitive information would be leaked as more employees are involved in the collaborative process.

How to Collaborate through Consensus with the End Goal in Mind

Generational cohort preferences are rooted in human judgment in how best to work towards a goal.  For example, many of my work processes are classic Gen-Xer.  My leadership style takes the form of coaching, and when I am asked to lead a meeting, my first inclination is to create a PowerPoint slide deck to lead the discussion.

I propose that cohorts will only increase in collaboration when they choose to de-emphasize a preferred, prescriptive process and focus on developing the best way to meet the objectives.   Teams should allow their members some nonjudgmental space and flexibility to carry out their best work.  Every member must learn to appreciate and find value in the other work styles as well as remain flexible.  The surprise outcome may be the discovery of a hybrid team work style that delivers the right product at the right time.

Generational cohort conflict cannot be solved, because it is rooted in different values and worldviews.  Poorly led organizations ignore cohort differences.  The better organizations seek ways to manage this conflict, and the best companies leverage these differences to win.


HE21118Davis_07-medAbout the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach and consultant with an extensive background in leadership and business development.  She coaches individuals as well as designs and facilitates workshops that address her clients’ specific business needs.  She has a passion to help organizations fully engage all its employees.  Reach out to her at sandra.s.dillon@hotmail.com or 281.793.3741 to further the conversation and determine how she can help you grow your business.

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