Making decisions is always difficult. It’s hard enough when the decision needs to be made by a group of like-minded peers; but the hardest types of decisions to make are those in which there are multiple generations involved in the process. So, what do you do? Bringing out the best in the generations impacting your decisions requires four critical approaches to ensure their involvement stays on track and is focused on moving toward an outcome that matters.
1. Don’t Assume Everyone Has Enough Insight
Simply making a decision does not earn an employee a participation trophy. Just showing up is not enough to succeed in today’s fast-paced business environment. Careful consideration of the available decision options is important. Frequently, the assumption is made that everyone at the table has enough insight and information to participate effectively in the process. Too often, they don’t.
Make sure your intergenerational team has enough information so they can be more mindful in evaluating your options. Established professionals can become grounded in a black-and-white point of view that makes them hold fast to historical assessments of potential options. Younger participants can have a limited viewpoint about possible options and consequences. This is not because they are incapable of complex thought; it is just that they often do not have enough experience to engage in a more nuanced deliberation.
Prepare them for participating in this process. Do they need advance reading material, such as an article about the critical issue you are going to address? Write up a summary of the critical elements of the issue and why a decision needs to be made. Set the stage at the outset by doing a comprehensive presentation at the first meeting. Provide them with clarity about how the decision relates to your organizational business strategies and why this is an area of concern for the firm. Don’t assume your team understands this, either. Consider this an educational opportunity for your younger employees.
2. Clarify the Decision Parameters
Keeping an intergenerational group focused is a challenge. They will careen from issue to issue unless you frame things up clearly for them. Establish a framework of what must be considered and the boundaries for how far they can go with the decision options. Set limits. If there are budget or staffing limitations, say so.
Make sure to clarify the boundaries of the group’s role in the decision-making process, too. Is the group the decision maker, serving in an advisory function to others who will decide, or an influencer with critical insight into key decision options? Put this in writing so no one can say later that they misunderstood or did not hear you say there were limits to work within.
It is easy to defer to a group of enthusiastic young professionals, but unless you stay on top of them, they can go way beyond the appropriate parameters. This can result in treacherous consequences; both in them going too far and in you dampening their enthusiasm for participating again.
Make sure to have tons of interim checkpoints and keep redirecting the discussion as needed. It is also easy for younger team members to defer to older professionals. Of course, they are seasoned and have experience. But they can also fall into the trap of only thinking within a box of historical options, which limits consideration of new approaches to solving problems. You need the insight of all generations at the table, but it has to be effectively channeled.
3. Manage the Decision Discussion
Don’t abandon your team to work without your involvement. You don’t have to be there for every group conversation, but you still need to manage the discussion. Most importantly, you should encourage candid dialog. Clarify for everyone the stakes and the resources of information you need. Only then can you begin discussing the decision parameters.
Have them walk through the potentials outcomes of the options under consideration. Require the group to discuss the pros and cons of each option. Encourage them to ask questions of each other to explore the consequences of the ideas being suggested. Challenge them to ask if there is an element of this option that could be combined with something already reviewed in order to make a stronger option.
Approach this in a respectful manner. Carefully manage how the group communicates so those with strong voices do not drown innovative ideas from more introverted participants who may lack the confidence to speak up in a group. If you get each of your participants deeply involved in the discussion, they will develop a mutual respect and learn from each other. This enhances intergenerational communication and encourages a more collaborative dialog.
4. Manage Expectations
With intergenerational teams, also manage their expectations about how much influence they will ultimately have on the decision-making process. It goes back to the role they play in the decision. Will they get a vote in the decision? Will they influence how you decide?
Carefully managing the group’s expectations on the front end of the process will help mitigate angst on the back end if you are the final decider and end up going a different route than they recommend.
Make sure you develop feedback loops and mechanisms for follow-up. You will lose your younger team members if they don’t get periodic follow-up on the decision outcome. If possible, continue to involve the decision team in reviewing the progress of the decision implementation. Then, they can help you adjust and adapt your decision strategy based on the evolving outcomes.
Intergenerational groups can provide you with significant ideas beyond the options you initially considered. When you do this well with intergenerational teams, they bond more effectively and learn from each other. They can also find unexpected approaches linking possibilities in powerful, sometimes unexpected ways.
If you effectively manage your intergenerational decision-making efforts, you will create a team dynamic that is powerfully focused on resolving issues. At the same time, they will build critical-thinking skills and learning how to work together for future decision making.
What are the ways you can strengthen your intergenerational decision making to get better results?