There's a lot written about generational differences, and with good reason. After all, your life experiences and life stages cause differences in your outlook, value system, and overall approach. They can create divisions from those raised in a different era. These differences create challenges when managing effective teams and they can cause friction if not well understood and appreciated.

That said, it is just as important to understand the similarities between the three generations most frequently found at work: Baby Boomers (those born from 1946-1964), Generation X (1965-1981) and Generation Y (Millennials born after 1982). Let's see what we can learn by looking at areas where we're the same.

Baby Boomers and Millennials share a number of characteristics, including being:

  • Entrepreneurial. Baby Boomers founded many of the organizations and firms in business today. And, according to the blog Maximizing Millennials: The Who, How, and Why of Managing Gen Y, nearly a third of Millennials had started a business in college (30 percent) or had a side business (35 percent). Both are enterprising and would do well to conceive of practice development strategies and rainmaking activities together.
  • Involved in the community and passionate about social causes. Baby Boomers are connected to and serving in leadership roles within local civic organizations and Millennials lead the nation in community service, according to NDN.org. As the Baby Boomers prepare for retirement, the Millennials will serve as excellent transition points for community relationships and activities.
  • Independent and committed to changing the establishment. Baby Boomers drove all manner of change in our country with the civil rights and equal rights movements, and they are expected to drive change in our health care systems as they age, too. Millennials have yet to center on their core issues, but gay rights and environmental issues are definitely areas where their support is making an impact. Identify areas where they can work together to change your firm for the better and you are very likely to gain traction.

Baby Boomers and Generation X have similarities, too, like:

  • Being financially focused. Both Generation X and the Baby Boomers' top financial concerns are building wealth and taking care of their families. This can lead to similar profitability concerns. Encourage these two generations to work together to maximize firm financial success.
  • Valuing traditional loyalty. Baby Boomers and Generation X expect loyalty and tenure from their team members. They should be encouraged to collaborate to drive increased engagement and motivation with their Millennials.
  • Believing in a chain of command. Baby Boomers and Generation X were raised in the traditional hierarchical organization and they value their positions in the chain of command. This chain is under pressure from Millennials, who want direct access to whoever makes decisions, without regard to level or position. While this is an area where Boomers and Gen X can commiserate, they both must embrace and include the Millennials in leadership and management activities far sooner than they participated, and they must flatten out their organizations wherever possible.

Generation X and Millennials experience the most friction at work, probably because they work closely together. But they also share a number of similarities, including:

  • Looking for efficiencies. Gen Xers and Millennials value working smart, not necessarily hard. They are interested in the most efficient, intelligent process or method for completing a task and they work well together when they are seeking to innovate new ways to drive process improvements. Put them together on important change initiatives like implementing centralized scheduling and you'll have a winning combination.
  • Readily embracing technology. Gen Xers tend to be better at traditional office productivity and practice management tools and Millennials are better with mobile technology and apps, but both agree that automating leads to efficiency, and that that's a good thing. Make sure both Gen X and Millennial team members act in leadership roles on your firm's IT strategy committee.
  • Expecting flexibility. Generation X "gave birth" to the concept of work/life balance, and their need to balance their family commitments with work has changed HR management for good. Millennials also expect balance and flexibility, and they're introducing an anytime, anywhere work approach that combines their need for efficient use of technology and balance. Ask members of these two generations to refine your firm's flexible and virtual work programs to ensure that they address the needs of your younger generations.

Play to your people's strengths and focus on their synergies more than their differences. When you do, you'll put those most motivated by a particular task to work together and the solutions they'll generate will astonish you.
Jennifer Wilson is a partner and co-founder of ConvergenceCoaching LLC, a leadership and marketing coaching, consulting and training firm that specializes in helping leaders achieve success.

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