Working Together – The Generational Gap

My focus today is at the intersection of three of my favourite subjects: change, perspective, and the unique strengths we all bring to the table.

Change is no longer something that happens.  It’s something that’s happen-ING… and one of the biggest changes happening in our teams currently is the dynamic between managers and their teams as a generational split moves through.  Not only do we have 5 generations in the workforce for the first time in history but, in 2017, the generational scales tipped once again as Millennials officially became the largest component of the current workforce.  This is according to official US stats, yet the dynamic is echoed worldwide.  Without perspective, this generational split within our teams is going to cause some friction to say the least as the viewpoints of each vary significantly.

Each generation has an age bracket, a descriptor, and a dynamic depending on what their experiences were of the world as they grew.  Obviously these are broad generalisations, but they represent the culture, experience and resulting beliefs of a period of time as opposed to any one individual.  This difference in formative experience is the very definition of perspective.  Each of us as individuals has a different perspective depending on what our life experience has been so far, and thus how we see the world.  The lens through which we view life is coloured by many things such as how and where we were raised, the belief systems of our families, our unique life experiences and our interpretation of all of those put together.  All we have is our own perspective, and until we’re clued up enough to realise that everyone’s perspective is slightly different, we may believe that our perspective is reality and therefore right, as opposed to just a subjective version of reality with room for examination.

When we can appreciate the perspective of others and how our differences add value to our team dynamics (both at work and at home), then we can build truly strong, diverse and dynamic teams.

Let’s take a look:

Decoding the Generational Stamp

Currently, our workforce is made up of Baby Boomers, Gen X-ers and Millennials (or Generation Y).  The differences between these generations isn’t something that’s been sucked out of someone’s thumb and it’s truly fascinating to read into.  Most people in upper or experienced managerial positions today are Gen X-ers (born 1965-1980, ranging in age from 39 – 54 years old).  Many teams are made up predominantly of Millennials (born 1981 – 1996, ranging in age from 38 – 23 years old).  There is, of course, a percentage of Baby Boomers (born 1946 – 1964, ranging in age from 73 – 55) at the peak of our workforce experience; and a contingent of Post-Millennials or Generation Z (born 1997 and later) bringing up the rear.  Baby Boomers are split further into BB1 and BB2 in acknowledgement that they span a large space in time and that the oldest and youngest Baby Boomers would have had vastly different experiences.  Generally, Baby Boomers are blessed with enough life experience and EQ to be able to appreciate the differing dynamics, and Post-Millennials are fairly new to the ballgame, which leaves the biggest potential clash of perspective between the Gen X-ers and the Millennials – between managers and their teams.

An Invitation to Appreciate the Generational Differences

The life experience of every single one of us is different, resulting in a unique view of the world that can either be used as a strength, or can ensure we hit every speed bump along the way.  Many variables including the environment and culture in which we were raised, the dynamics, belief systems and values of our families, and our own life experiences and how we’ve framed them, come together to form a slightly different view of the world and how it works for each of us.

I’m a firm believer that what makes us different makes us strong and that it’s a requirement of “team” that each of us bring our different strengths to the table.  If any one of us was the same as the person next to us, one of us would not be necessary.  And yet it is our differences that divide, frustrate and scare us.  Without examination of our differences, appreciation of the various perspectives and acknowledgement of the strengths and weaknesses of each perspective, we cannot become the powerhouse teams we’re meant to be.

Over the next few weeks, because this subject is intricate and I believe it’s worthwhile, I’m going to give you a series of insights into the differing dynamics of the generations currently in our workforce, our families and our teams so that we can find that appreciation and identify those strengths and weaknesses.  In the meantime, may I ask you this week to start noticing (if it’s not already hitting you square between the eyes) where there may be currently unappreciated differences and friction between the generational gaps in your team.  Start asking yourself which differences may be due to a difference in perspective – although that’s the very definition of it.

Before you start examining these differences this week and beyond, let me preface it with my Mother’s wisdom:  “Everyone is entitled to an opinion, and the fact that two opinions may differ doesn’t necessarily make one of them wrong.”  Once we can see a difference in perspective, we can question where our own and that of another may vary and why.  My Grandmother used to paraphrase Robert Owen – “Everybody’s strange but thee and me, and even thee is sometimes!”.  As much as our internal eyebrow may raise when someone comes at things from an angle different to ours, there is generally good reason for that – at least in their own head.  If we can notice the differences, then we can examine them.  If we’re willing to examine them, then we can communicate our way to common ground.  Not only that, but that common ground WILL be enhanced by the meeting of those minds when each mind brings something new and valuable to the party.

If we can get out of our own way; out of our own judgement; then we not only broaden our own perspectives, but help to find a place of value for every individual we’ve been gifted with along our path.  When we can find that space to activate each team member to their greatest potential…well…then we have a recipe worth sharing!

By Christen Killick

21st September 2019

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