Aligning Multiple Generations in the Workplace

Dear readers, this is my last Ask a Gen Y blog post, and my last week with Chief Learning Officer magazine, a place I’ve called home since 2010. The past five years have been an interesting, fulfilling journey and covering generational issues has been one of the most intriguing responsibilities I’ve had. I started this blog knowing very little about the industry and have since written more than 200 blog posts dissecting every aspect of working with and as a millennial.

For my last piece, I’m sharing an interview with Michelle K. Lee, a consultant in Witt/Kieffer’s Leadership Solutions Practice. She shares how to align multiple generations in the workplace — the theme of this blog channel all along.

Thanks for following along, and please continue to stay in touch. Your comments, emails and reach outs on social media have made this job a joy the past five years.

You’ve said before, and our readers know, that addressing team alignment head on, while also capitalizing on generational differences, benefits company morale and culture, but how can it be done?

Lee: One of the most effective ways to bring intergenerational teams together is to actually bring them together. Start with a facilitated discussion with key stakeholders from both groups in the same room to talk about mission, vision, and how they can best work together. This could be a team retreat with an entire day reserved for this sole purpose or it could be a special meeting with this particular focus. In either scenario, it’s important to have a facilitator not associated with the team who can guide and direct the conversations in an impartial, collaborative way.


Michelle K. Lee, Witt/Kieffer
Michelle K. Lee, Witt/Kieffer

Once this alignment or vision-casting meeting or retreat takes place, the team should hold regular follow-up meetings on strategic alignment to make sure they are moving forward on the same path and holding each other accountable to agreed-upon behaviors and defined objectives.

But what about the stereotypes that stand in the way? For example, older generations might think Gen Y is entitled and lazy. How can we overcome that?

Lee: Call them out and name them for what they are: stereotypes based on generalizations, not individuals. Yes, they are rooted in biases, unconscious or not, but bringing them to the forefront and identifying the elephant in the room is a good start to changing generalized, often faulty, impressions.

Questions to ask about specific biases might be: Why do you believe that to be true? Can you provide an example of that behavior? Is there another way of looking at the situation or behavior?

Sometimes certain behaviors do need to change in order for the team to be successful. Questions to ask about changing behaviors: Does that behavior benefit or impede the effectiveness of the team? How or how not? What is one behavioral change you could personally make that would improve the effectiveness of the team?

What learning and development tools can help? Assessments? Mentoring? Training? Explain.

Lee: Teams can employ various instruments and methodologies to learning more about themselves and how they work with one another. The ones I like the most are those that answer some basic questions: Who are we as a team? What roles do we play? Who do we want to be? How do we get there together? Usually these answers can be pursued in different ways, depending on the dynamics and history of the team. Traditional avenues such as team assessment tools and 360-feedback processes can lay the groundwork. Once the foundational information is evident regarding mission, vision, strengths, and opportunities of the team, then both individual work and team development can be the next step. Following team assessment, individual leadership coaching of team members coupled with real-time team coaching has proven to be an effective alignment process.

How does technology fit into all of this?

Lee: Technology touches every part of what we do in business today. On the whole, most businesses and industries are moving toward a technology focus. Much of the virtual contact we have transitioned to has improved areas such as responsiveness, immediacy and communication. It has also led to less face-to-face time in many cases. Milennials might argue that the gain is worth the perceived loss, while baby boomers would likely argue the reverse. In the context of intergenerational teams, I believe using technology to advance objectives is a necessity. The team requires the real-time immediacy technology provides and with the pervasiveness of technology, the team couldn’t be successful without it.

This article originally appeared on Diversity Executive's sister publication, Chief Learning Officer.