A team for all ages

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A team for all ages
A team for all ages
When working at a continuing care retirement community, or for that matter any type of organization that services the aging population, one hears the term “Intergenerational programming” from time to time.

Traditionally, this concept defines programs and/or activities where a younger individual, or more frequently a group of youths, interacts and work with senior citizens. Within the industry of retirement communities this is typically a group consisting of Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, youth ministry groups or teens needing to perform community service through volunteering. These youths will come onto the campus, help out at a special event, run a BINGO game or visit the older population.

However, another aspect of intergenerational programming is not youth coming to your campus to volunteer for seniors, but for the seniors to go into the community to volunteer to assist the youth. Seniors could become mentors and coaches at local schools and universities or help perform community outreach side-by-side with the youth group. The power is that both groups are able to learn from one each other, provide mentoring, companionship and personal fulfillment.


The 'other' consideration

Yet there is still one other intergenerational program that is occurring every day in your organization and it is on your own employee team. With the economy the way it is, people are staying in their jobs longer. Others are retiring in one profession only to start another.

What that means to businesses that tend to retain and keep their employees, is that there are often times four very different generations that are potentially working side-by-side with one another. If you find yourself with the possibility of leading such a team, you would want to make sure that the benefits outweigh the potential pitfalls.

Each era has its distinct set of values, traditions and tendencies that could, and probably will, clash. In order to continue to team build as an effective leader, you are going to have to develop a deeper understanding of these generations which will help you develop strategies to help the team come together.

What are the four generations?

Traditionalists (born 1922-1945) are identified as having a deep respect for those in command or a superior position of authority. They like to maintain formalities, using surnames and titles. It was their hard work after World War II that produced a hard working America.

By following the rules, remaining loyal and not rocking the boat, they represent a generation that demands respect for their age and experience.

Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) like to look at their accomplishments that they have earned through hard work and sacrifice. They prefer a personal style of communication and can be seen as highly competitive. They like to fill their schedules and remain busy.

Growing older, they are fighting the physical and mental issues of their own aging and are in some denial that they are now moving beyond middle age. They continue to push themselves by staying in the know of what the younger generations are interested in.

Generation X (born 1965-1980) are self-starters. They have seen the workaholic attitudes of the Boomers and prefer to go the other way. They have also seen how corporations perhaps have used the previous two generations' energy, hard work and time with little praise and turning them from individuals to numbers on a spreadsheet. This has caused Generation X to not have loyalty to the organization they are working for. They are distrusting of those in power and authority.

Lacking in experience compared to the Boomers, the older generations feel that Generation X is looking for advancement without paying dues. Unlike the Traditionalists, Generation X has swapped the briefcase for a backpack as they are informal in dress and relationship and look to have fun on the job. They are much more comfortable with technology then the previous generations.

The Millennials (born 1981-2000) are used to busy lives. They grew up in organized sports programs, after-school activities and are dependent on technology. Due to this, they are highly collaborative and easy to work with. Social media is just an extension of how they communicate which they do very well.

They are looking to have a voice and expect tools within an organization to help support their skills at multi-tasking. They also share Generation X's desire for life-balance looking for enrichment outside of their daily occupations.

So now you have a better understanding of the generations and some of the core ideas that each values. How do you bring them together as a functioning team?

Basic team building events are always effective with numerous resources out there for you to look at. However, here are a few thoughts that you could consider:

Goal setting

When building your intergenerational team, make sure that each individual's goals are a piece of a larger departmental structure. Basically, as a team, each individual's goals are shared and discussed with not only the manager or leader, but with the entire team. This way everyone knows what the other is focused on, thereby being able to provide support, resources and help each other succeed.

The leader can then make sure that each goal flows into the overall department or organizations annual strategic goals.


Make sure as a leader that you are setting aside time to build relationships. This could be a monthly coffee, lunch or breakfast where work is not discussed. Personal interests and relationship building will occur. This will help solidify team relationships, build understanding and trust so when a “fierce conversation” occurs, it will come from a position of trust and respect without it getting personal.

Celebrate and evaluate

This also folds into scheduling. Make sure that you set aside time to celebrate each other's and departmental successes. At the same time, make sure the team has proper time to evaluate and discuss completed or failed projects before moving onto the next thing. This will provide positive feedback, encourage lessons learned and embrace different viewpoints.

Encourage mentoring

Mentoring does not have to be only an older person teaching a younger associate the job. Each generation can offer skills, experiences and stories for each other, and by each other.

As you bring your team together, you will find that each member presents contrasting values, energy and ideas based upon his or her generation. By better understanding generational differences, you will be better prepared to identify solutions that impact the communication and performance of your team.

There has been much discussion over the years on the benefits of intergenerational activities and volunteer programs based on each generation learning from each other's strengths and experiences. The same outcome can occur within your multigenerational workforce.

Michael McCann is Director of Lifestyles at Friendship Village of Schaumburg in Schaumburg, IL.

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