For the first time in history, there are five generations together in our workplaces. That means those born in the 1940s through those born in the 2000s are all trying to create, shape, and move goals and ideas forward. Some may see this as a barrier to collaboration, but I think it’s actually a prime opportunity to cross-pollinate strengths, experiences, and viewpoints for more innovation and insight.
For example, has your organization embraced “reverse mentoring”? This is where the traditional mentee becomes the leader, teacher, and mentor—rather than the other way around—and mentor/mentee roles are fluid, based on end goals and not organizational charts.
I’ve experienced the benefits firsthand of reverse mentoring. My younger colleagues at the German Convention Bureau have introduced me to social media, sharing tips and advice on how to communicate and connect across these various platforms.
Here are a few takeaways from our efforts so far that can be put into motion in any organization. All it takes is a little practice and an openness to mixing things up.
Lose the stereotypes. We’ve all heard the typical labels attributed to Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials, but an entire generation cannot be pigeonholed by behaviors, goals, or styles based on age alone. Personalities, life experiences, passions, cultural backgrounds, and much more shape our teammates. Try to think of your team more as a symphony working together than various camps. Some people will bring talents on “strings,” others on “brass” or “woodwinds,” based on their unique journey. Look to leverage those talents by seeing the whole person and their skills, talents, and potential, and not their age.
Shake it up. To truly reveal your team’s skills and talents—client service, content creation, social media, industry insight, financial savvy, etc.—you must push to create opportunities for people to shine in ways that are not always “top-down” driven. For example, create chances for everyone on your staff to lead a project, present at a big meeting, or act as the expert coach on a particular topic. Additionally, don’t exclude someone from discussions or brainstorms because you think they “won’t know” or “won’t care” about the topic. Sometimes the people who are not a whiz at something can look at it more objectively and think about how it affects your organization or clients.
Think about customer needs first and always. We all get hung up on the internal cultures and rhythms of our workplaces, but at the end of the day, it should be about creating the right mix of talents and mentee/mentor relationships that serve the goals of our end clients. What are their pain points? How could we better leverage the unique skills of all our team members to better serve these needs? How can we mingle ages and backgrounds and skills to create more dynamic and client-centric working teams and initiatives?
Regardless of our birth date, we all want to feel valued. We want to know we are contributing to the good of the company, our clients, and our careers. Reverse mentoring is one great way you can help create a culture that maximizes everyone’s best, at each and every age.
Matthias Schultze is managing director of the German Convention Bureau.