Generational differences are common in the workplace, home and churches. Leaders that effectively address these differences begin the process with understanding; realizing that the differences stem from each generation having very different experiences in life and living in a different world.
Hayne Shaw, in his book Sticking Points: How to Get 4 Generations Working Together in the 12 Places they Come Apart, outlines five steps for leading groups through generational differences:
Talking about generational differences by bringing differences and frustration out in the open, where they can be resolved. Ideally, all generations should have a voice in this conversation. Avoid “managing” separate situations by making new policies at this point. Place emphasis on talking and not resolving.
Placing focus on appreciation for other generations will steer the conversation away from complaints and finger pointing. Introduce common need early in the discussion and focus on the “why” instead of the “what,” of how attaining that common need may differ. Those leading may need to redirect a group numerous times, before they get the hang of this new way of thinking. Until people understand why other generations work differently, some will remain irritated and the group will pull apart. For example, one common need is communication among church staff. Younger workers may tend to email or instant message coworkers and listen to music on headphones while on the computer. Older workers may prefer talking over their cubicles or attending meetings. However, when asked “why,” both groups respond that they are trying to be efficient and communicate well. The idea is to appreciate common goals, while acknowledging the different approaches; allowing further discussion.
Agree on how to accommodate different approaches. Consider training; the four generations prefer to learn differently. Some organizations have argued over classroom verses online training for years. Don’t argue – flex. Offer both and let people choose. The common need is not how people learn, but what they learn. The key is separating preferences from needs. Clearly not everything is flexible, but communication is always essential.
Maximize the strengths of each generation. Leveraging differences so that one person’s (group’s) strength makes up for another’s weakness. It is easy to miss strengths and focus on irritations; effective leadership brings out the positive in what others think are negatives. Leveraging the strength of each generation builds a team.
Determine which option will yield the best results (when flexing isn’t enough). Discuss how the group will move forward in those situations where everyone’s preferences cannot be accommodated. Often issues are resolved through a combination of flex-resolve. For instance, a youth pastor may allow students to use their smart phones to access bible apps, but request that they not text or play games during youth group.
Generationally, we will always feel more at home in our own “country.” However, intentional conversations will help members from all four generations learn about the other “countries.” Such understanding is essential to the revitalization and growth of church.