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Teamwork Skills

Solutions for Your Generational Divides

There is something to be said for simply raising one's awareness about an issue. It may not solve everything, but it does go a long way toward mutual understanding--the first giant step in a longer process.

According to Brad Sago from Anderson University, the following recommendations are a great start.

Minimize your generational framework. It is only natural for people to look at their world through their own set of values and experiences. People judge others by their own framework. In dealing with members of other generations, it is important to minimize the use of glasses that tint how people and situations are judged.

Build knowledge and skills. Increasing the knowledge and skills of your work force can not only improve productivity, but also be a valuable tool for retaining staff. Younger workers especially value training (their ace in the hole in case of layoffs). Worker improvement programs encourage younger employees to stay with an organization longer.

Deal with changing work/life expectations. One variable that has undergone a massive transformation in just three generations is the changed perception of the desire to balance work and life. Jobs afford the means to experience and enjoy other facets of life--they are no longer defining personal identities.

Other experts in the field offer complimentary advice:

Understand that loyalty exists in all generations, but it is flavored differently. Gen Xers might not be loyal to an organization, but (maybe in part because of the lack of family structure) they are loyal to individual bosses. Many Gen Xers will follow bosses from one organization to another.

Offer a variety of office space set-ups. Millenials like to be set up to physically share ideas. Gen Xers are more likely to appreciate personal space (remember, they're individualistic problem-solvers who rely on themselves first).

Set up a reverse mentoring program. Companies from Procter and Gamble to Siemens have set up tutoring for middle-aged executives. Young newcomers help the executives navigate the Net. GE matched 1,000 managers and 1,000 young employees. Even though the younger cohort had just joined the firm, they tended to understand new technologies better than GE's finest. Semco, a very progressive South American company, has set up similar mentoring partnerships. Younger workers learn from their senior colleague's wisdom, patience and experience. Veterans benefit from their cohort's energy, enthusiasm, fresh ideas and natural entrepreneurialism.

Find common ground. Workers from all generations appreciate flexible schedules and value time off during standard work hours to pursue personal interests. Senior workers may want to take afternoons off to play golf, pick up grandkids from school, garden or pursue other hobbies. Younger workers may want to take mornings off to sleep in after socializing into the wee hours of the morning, continue taking college courses or training for a triathalon. Different interests and work routines are an advantage to multi-generational teams in this scenario.

Don't fear aggressive communication. Conflicts are usually the result of preconceived expectations and assumptions. But airing these generational issues in an open forum can resolve many of them. This eradicates most passive-aggressive behaviors (dirty looks when people leave at 5:00 to attend a kid's soccer game, for example).

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