Cross Generation Mentoring: Getting Codgers and Kids Working Together

Remote teams are not only made up of people from different functions, locations and countries, but generations as well -- which may be one of the hardest chasms to span. You know the complaints: "Older workers are technophobic and too set in their ways to deal with the new realities of business." Or "Those darned kids won't pull their faces up from their texting long enough to pay attention." the answer might be cross-generation mentoring.

When we think of mentoring, it's usually in a Mr. Miyagi/Karate Kid scenario. The wise old hand passes his wisdom to the newbie, the kid learns a valuable lesson just before the oldster kicks the bucket, and there isn't a dry eye in the house. But when it comes to the modern workplace, everyone can (and darned well better) learn from everyone else on the team.

What are the real business advantages of mentoring across generations?

  • You can capture older workers' knowledge and pass it on. As workers get closer to retirement age, your team is in great danger of having years of wisdom and experience head out the door. By establishing a good mentoring relationship there are plenty of opportunities to pass that knowledge on to those who (hopefully) will continue the team's good work.
  • Younger workers can energize your older workers and boost productivity.The energy and constant questioning of younger workers might be a bit grating at times, but challenging assumptions is great for improving process (assuming you and your team are open to new ideas). And if you give them the chance, the younger generation can demonstrate why they love technology so much: It gets things done more easily. Watching someone use a new tool effectively is far likelier to speed its adoption than another nagging memo from IT.
  • It builds stronger teams. Let's be honest. In a perfect world your team members would all volunteer to help each other find solutions, extend a hand of welcome to newbies, and break down silos on their own. But we don't live in a perfect world. When you assign mentors, you are jump-starting a process that might not happen organically (or at the very least might take longer than your project can afford). Many great relationships started because people were thrown together and had to make the best of it.
George Orwell once said, "Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it." Even though he was being satirical, he was right. photo by flickr user manpages CC2.0