Speaking the Same Generational Language
I have mixed emotions. The Olympics are over (sigh) but a new school year is around the corner and pre-season football is in full swing (hooray!). That’s three tell-tale signs that fall is on the way. It also means Performance review season is here for most Federal employees. While performance reviews add another significant task to your ‘to do’ list as supervisors and managers, the hours that go into them are time well spent for you, your direct reports, and the organization as a whole. As you step back and assess how well each individual performed this year—and begin to formulate what you want to accomplish as a team in FY17—I encourage you to add another question to your assessment:
Are we leveraging the strengths of each team member and the generations we represent?
Having so many generations in the workplace can generate mixed emotions for supervisors and managers. It presents well-documented advantages but also produces palpable challenges when it comes to getting a team to function like a well-oiled machine. At times, it can seem like your team members speak the same language but have no idea what each other are saying. Here are a few tips you can lean on to help your team members set goals that will foster a unified, strong team:
- Ask your team to take an introspective look at themselves and their generation
We all have strengths, weaknesses, assets, limitations, and emotional responses, and they are influenced by the environment and time in which we exist. Knowing the self that you bring to the team and considering the effect of your journey will open you to new perspectives and self-development.
- Encourage each team member to find out what unites them with their colleagues
Fixating on what is different about you and your team members can block you from seeing how you complement each other and what you can accomplish as a team. Identifying individual strengths and what you have in common reframes your view to what’s possible as opposed to what’s standing in our way.
- Create an opportunity to discuss and share insights about the generations on the team
Once your team has engaged in a bit of self-reflection and considered what each team member contributes to the team, facilitate a conversation about the generations you represent. Ask each team member to identify three words that describe their generation and one stereotype that is untrue to get the ball rolling. I’ll bet the conversation eventually leads to realization that while each generation is defined, the definition rarely offers a fair and full assessment of a generation.
To ensure the self-reflection and team discussions have lasting effect, you have to create the right conditions for your team to adopt a new mindset:
- Are you fostering an environment of inclusiveness?
Being inclusive means all your team members feel valued, connected, and involved in decisions and processes. Evaluate what you are doing—or could do better—to make sure your team understands their roles in decisions, give them consistent information, hold each member of the team to the same standards, and provide opportunities for professional development.
- Are you taking an appreciative approach when you communicate? Supervisors and managers aren’t mind readers, though it would be near the top of my super power wish list. When challenges arise, are you quick to judge why a situation unfolded or do you lead with a positive, glass half full mindset? It is especially important to check your assumptions and focus on the positive when the issue at hand involves conflict that your team members are attributing to generational differences. More often than not, the issue has little to do with generations and is rooted in basic differences in communication preferences.
- Are you helping your team to find shared meaning in their work?
Each team member is unique and brings an important dimension to the team, and you can pre-empt a lot of potential conflict by helping your team understand what drives each of them in the workplace. When team members know what puts wind behind their colleagues sails (as well as what pushes their buttons), it creates accountability for the team to keep each other engaged in their work.
Although performance reviews can feel like a lot like tedious paper work and a tick the box activity, this time of year can also serve as a way to refresh your commitment to your team and figure out what’s possible when you lean on the strengths of the generations you represent.