4 Ways to Improve Intergenerational Decision-Making

Making decisions is always difficult. It is hard enough when the decision needs to be made by a group of like-minded peers, but it gets even tougher when employees from different generations are involved in the process.

So what do you do? Bringing out the best among multiple generations of employees requires four critical approaches to ensure their decision-making involvement stays on track and helps produce a decision that matters.

1. Don’t Assume Everyone Has Enough Insight

Careful consideration of all the available options is important. But don’t assume that everyone at the table has enough insight and information to participate effectively in the process. All too often they don’t.

Established professionals can get locked into a black-or-white point of view that makes them hold fast to historical assessments of potential options. Younger participants may have a limited viewpoint about possible options and consequences, too. This is not because they are incapable of complex thought. It’s just that they often don’t have enough experience to engage in a more nuanced deliberation.

  • Make sure your intergenerational team has enough information so they can be more mindful in evaluating your options. Do they need to review any reading material in advance, 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 decision-making meeting.

Provide your team with clarity about why this decision is important to your business. Don’t assume they already understand.

2. Clarify the Decision Parameters

Keeping an intergenerational group focused is a challenge. They will careen from issue to issue unless you frame things clearly for them. Establish a framework of what must be considered and the boundaries for how far they can go when considering the different options. 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. Are they the decision-makers? Are they serving in an advisory function to others who will decide? Are they influencers 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 they needed 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 very treacherous consequences, either in them going too far and in you dampening their enthusiasm for participating again. Have tons of interim checkpoints and keep redirecting their discussion as needed.

It is also easy for younger team members to defer to older professionals, who are more seasoned and have more experience. But the older folks can also fall into the trap of only thinking within a box of historical options, limiting 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. You don’t have to be there for every work-group conversation, but you still need to manage the discussion. Most importantly, encourage candid dialogue. Clarify for everyone the stakes, the resources or information you need, and begin discussing the decision parameters.

Have your team walk through the potential outcomes of the options under consideration. Require them 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 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 out innovative ideas from more introverted participants who may lack the confidence to speak up.

If you get each of your participants deeply involved in the discussion, they will develop mutual respect and learn from each other. This enhances intergenerational communication and encourages a more collaborative decision dialogue.

4. Manage Expectations

With intergenerational teams, you should 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? Or will they be influencing how you decide? Carefully managing their expectations at the front end will help reduce angst at the back end if you are the final decider and go a different way 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.

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, your team members will be building critical-thinking skills and learning how to work together for future decision-making.

What are the ways you can strengthen your company’s intergenerational decision-making to get better results?