Let’s talk about multi-generational workforces

Paula Hunter, Executive Director, Mojaloop Foundation

Earlier this year, I was honoured to participate in a Women in IT Summit USA panel on cultivating and maintaining a multi-generational workforce. The panel, which was part of the Women in IT Summit Series, brought together five speakers representing four generations: Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z. During the session, many thought-provoking ideas and perspectives were shared about how to effectively engage and collaborate with multi-generational colleagues. It was wonderful to hear from such diverse viewpoints and have a valuable conversation on a topic that is increasingly relevant in our changing workforce. Below are a few key takeaways I took from the discussion.

Building Trust

My role on the panel was to speak from a leader’s perspective about the challenges and benefits of working with a multi-generational team. It is so important for leaders to build trust within their ecosystems, and the best way to do this is to get to know your team on a personal level.

At the Mojaloop Foundation, I work with a very geographically dispersed community that has always relied heavily on remote communication. While this has proven an effective way to work, I still feel that nothing beats face-to-face meetings. Whenever possible, I have made an effort to meet with the community once per quarter. This allows us to share meals, learn about each other and build relationships rooted in empathy and understanding, which in turn builds trust and positively impacts our productivity as a team.

We hope to get back to in-person meetings soon, but in today’s remote-centric world, I am always trying to introduce more ways to share about themselves. For newcomers, who have not had the benefit of meeting the community members in person, the opportunity to share some personal details to help develop empathy and build relationships with their colleagues is especially important. This helps us understand more about the group and how we can all best collaborate.

Mentorship is a Two-Way Street

Another interesting discussion topic revolved around what different generations can learn from one another. It’s always good to have a fresh perspective, and I welcome feedback from my teammates and encourage them to ask why I did something in a certain way. In this sense, mentorship programmes are great for all parties involved. The younger set gets a more hands-on lesson to approaching business problems and can learn how the veteran works through specific challenges.

I find that I can better explain my thinking and approach when working with mentees in this close, nuanced way. On the flip side, as a leader, I can also learn from those I’m mentoring. Having someone ask questions about – and even challenge – my approach is valuable in that it forces me to re-evaluate and reassess my thinking, which is never a bad thing. It also gives me the chance to refine my skills, which, admittedly, can get rusty at times. An important point hammered home by all speakers on the panel is the broad benefit of mentorship programmes – they are extremely important for training the next generation in the field, but they also provide immense value to the veteran mentor.

Strive for Constant Learning

This dovetails nicely with what I think was the biggest takeaway from this panel: teammates of all generations must listen to each other and learn from each other. We all have valuable viewpoints and skillsets that we bring to the table, and we all need to learn how to drop our boundaries and talk to one another regularly. It can be difficult to communicate effectively across instant messages or email, and it’s important to remember that sometimes you just need to take a breath, stop and have a conversation to work through a problem. In today’s world, that often means hopping on a conference call or zoom session, but as the world continues to open up, we will have more opportunities to connect in person.

Talk things through, listen to your colleagues, and be open to learning from them, no matter their age. These simple ideas can help ensure everyone is on the same page and often can make all the difference in driving the efficacy and productivity of a team, no matter the generational makeup.

Constant learning is key and is good for any team. Another important point I heard from my fellow panellists is to make sure all team members feel they have a voice and are valued. I couldn’t agree more. People of all ages bring valuable and diverse skill sets to the group, and more times than not, that diversity in skillset strengthens the whole team. 

Thank you to the Women in IT Summit for giving me the opportunity to participate in this panel. It was an enjoyable experience that reminded me of the immense value of multi-generational teams and what can be accomplished when we all work together and learn from each other.

If you’re interested in more from this panel, watch the whole discussion here.


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