Many conversations about generations at work focus on the inherent challenges — ageism (which affects both youngers and olders), stereotypes (ok boomer, anyone?), tensions (email vs. text). All that is important and real, but I’m hungry for solutions!
Which is why I was thrilled to moderate a panel at the Stanford Social Innovation Nonprofit Management Summit about how to make the most of the multigenerational moment when five generations share the workplace like never before. For those active in today’s workforce, it’s possible that co-workers on a team are old or young enough to be your grandparent or grandchild, something that only recently became commonplace.
The panelists — all big thinkers — focused on innovation, solutions and optimism.
- Eunice Lin Nichols, VP of Innovation for Encore.org, is an evangelist for cross-generational collaboration and one of the leading experts on intergenerational models for social impact.
- Sherretta Harrison, Chief Executive Catalyst, MetroMorphosis and a millennial, co-leads the Baton Rouge community organization with its boomer founder.
- Jeffrey Vargas, CEO of Generationology, which helps organizations manage and lead across generations while unleashing the power of intergenerational collaboration.
Each panelist began by sharing the family stories that shaped their views on the power of generational connection. Jeffrey lives in a multigenerational household, ages 9 to 89. Eunice grew up in a multigenerational home where her grandparents were her “after school program.” Sheretta spoke about losing her mom at a young age, an experience she remembers when nonprofits lose leaders vital to sustainability.
I urge you to watch the highlights reel below, but here are a few of my favorite takeaways:
- We need more innovations like Cirkel, which pairs older and younger people in virtual, cross-mentoring relationships that rarely occur naturally. And more people brave enough to try the younger-older co-leadership model that’s working well at MetroMorphosis.
- If you’re trying to innovate, take a look at the age diversity you have on your team before moving forward. You’ll get a better result from an age-diverse team.
- When working across generations, build trust, listen deeply, and remain humble and curious regardless of how many years of experience you have.
- When managing someone older, make sure to connect with people where they are and understand what they are looking for at this moment in their careers.
- Sometimes the best way to use power is to actively support younger people to lead. And to let them make mistakes.
- When you build teams that are age diverse, you often get diversity by race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual identity, too. That’s a bonus!
- Understand that conversations about generations are always personal because, as Jeffrey said, we are “living, breathing examples of the generational influences that shaped us.”
Good news: Research is beginning to show that cross-generational teams are more effective than teams that are not age diverse, and diversity by age is beginning to become a part of the DEI conversation.
My hope is that more of us will feel comfortable ‘claiming our age’ publicly — without fear that it will out us as the oldest or youngest on the team in ways that jeopardize our prospects. It’s why I let my hair go silver this year. That said, it’s easier to go gray when you have a job that’s all about cross-generational innovation.
If you’re working effectively and creatively across generations, I’d love to hear about it. Send me a note at [email protected]. And for more about solutions for a multigenerational world, check out “Meeting the Multigenerational Moment,” our series published in partnership with The Stanford Social Innovation Review.