The Montagues vs. the Capulets, the Jets vs. the Sharks, and now the Millennials vs. the Baby Boomers? Yes, this intergenerational divide will likely go down among other famous feuds, but what happens when millennials and baby boomers actually work together? Huge success, as new research shows.
Cloverpop CEO and Forbes contributor Erik Larson and his co-researchers analyzed the effects of age of 300 business decisions made by approximately 100 different business teams over the course of two years, with each decision-making team comprising five or six people. (And yes, his research found that teams outperform individual decision makers.) In news that might annoy anyone of AARP-qualifying age, the researchers found younger teams made decisions with 40 percent more positive outcomes than older teams.
However—and here's the rub—multi-generation decision teams had more than twice as many positive outcomes. Specifically, in teams with an age range of 25 years or more, the results of business decisions exceeded expectations 73 percent of the time. In teams with an age range of fewer than 10 years, decisions exceeded expectations only 35 percent of the time. "That is a management lesson for the ages, literally," Larson writes.
And as for that prior finding—the one about younger teams making more effective decisions than older ones—that could just boil down to the finding that older decision teams are 10 times less likely to include younger viewpoints. In other words, Larson writes, "Younger teams were very likely to include one or more older team members, whereas older teams were very unlikely to include one or more younger team members."
That's not surprising. When we have a choice, as Larson notes, we prefer to work with similar people. But "it is not our differences but our biases that are the biggest barriers blocking multi-generational teams," he says. By assuming the most experienced (or just the most extroverted) people in the room have all the answers, we can fall victim to false expertise. In fact, he observes, both generations have "remarkably similar career goals, work attitudes, and learning patterns."
This research provides another voice to a familiar refrain: It's important for age groups to learn from each other in the workplace. Seniority is often synonymous with experience and wisdom, sure, but younger generations can also provide bright ideas. Former Seventeen editor-in-chief Ann Shoket, for example, said older workers should take their cues from millennials—or, as she calls them, "game-changing, rockstar pioneers." And in Harvard Business Review, INSEAD Management Acceleration Program co-director Jennifer Petriglieri reported on the success of reverse mentoring programs to get senior leaders more aware about how to attract and nurture junior talent.
We're not saying baby boomers should start wearing man buns and millennials should start taking Centrum, but companies apparently have everything to gain by sharing insights and intelligence across generational lines. "As people live longer and more productive lives, the range of ages in the workforce continues to expand. At the same time, the digital transformation of work is bringing new tools and systems to solve old problems and create new opportunities," Larson concludes. "It's time to purposefully combine those two trends and unlock the power of multi-generational decision-making teams at work."