Gen Z Teams Are Magic for Startup Leaders Who Overcome This Challenge
Gen Z workers learn and adapt quickly, but results depend on giving them the right guidance.
Generation Z really is a new breed -- and this should be music to entrepreneurs’ ears. Recent research from LinkedIn found that these young thinkers bring a more adaptable mindset to the workplace along with an ability to learn quickly, pivot seamlessly and pioneer free-form work styles.
Generation Z has the kind of quick-learning, adaptable mentality that’s valuable to startups in particular. Members of this generation are on the cusp of entering the employment market, and their traits already suggest they’ll thrive in fast-paced, creative environments where employees wear many different hats.
What makes Gen Zers uniquely suited to startup life?
Gen Zers are independent, to say the least. They follow their own ideas and experiment all the while. Because they grew up with an understanding of the gig economy, they’re not scared to try new things within their careers. This has given them a natural inclination for all things entrepreneurial.
Gen Zers were also raised around technology and fast-paced innovation. For many of them, technology is part of who they are. Devices function as learning and work tools, rather than shiny toys, and this has given them a preference for immediate gratification and rapid learning. If employers give them the opportunity to act on this habit, they can become proficient in just about anything -- zeroing in on a startup’s problems and inventing solutions all on their own.
Of course, these young people also bring a keen understanding of their fellow Gen Zers to the table, and nobody can explain their preferences better. As a startup leader, you’re probably already targeting this group. It’s now responsible for $143 billion in spending, according to Barkley, and this number is only set to increase as spending power grows. This kind of insider knowledge is invaluable for startups of all stripes.
These qualities will surely set Gen Zers up for success in startup environments, but they also bring the potential for clashes with other generational groups.
Handling tension between generations
The existing members of your team -- likely Millennials, Gen Xers, and Baby Boomers -- all have their own ways of working, and they’ve honed these styles over the course of their careers. As a team, you’ve probably also developed a system of working that relies on relatively set systems and processes -- even in a fast-paced startup environment. So when it comes time to bring Gen Zers on board, adding their self-led style to this mix could create an air of competition.
Communication styles will certainly differ. Although the norm for office communication has moved from phone and email to speedier platforms such as Slack, Gen Z is actually bringing back in-person contact (yep, you read that right). According to Robert Half, many Gen Zers have a fear of being treated like children by their more seasoned counterparts. This means they tend to have their most important conversations with managers face to face, gauge whether they’re being taken seriously and go back to working independently.
Any new addition to your culture can take some getting used to, and differing work styles and communication preferences can cause serious tension if left unaddressed. Here are three ways to manage your cross-generational team, nurture its members and bring out everyone’s best qualities:
1. Help generations get to know each other.
First, build some foundations to prevent communication mishaps and help team members get to know each other. Because they’re brilliant at maintaining their own working styles and creating new work systems, Gen Zers need to appreciate the processes you’ve already created.
Although they can find ways to maximize how you’re currently working, they can learn a lot from Baby Boomers and Gen Xers’ knowledge and experience. Conversely, older generations can learn a ton from observing Gen Z’s ability to invent freely and come up with spur-of-the-moment solutions. To spark this kind of communication and learning, set up a two-sided mentorship program, pairing up members of different generations to educate one another on various tasks.
According to research from Kabbage, more than 90% of small business owners believe mentorships directly impact their business’s growth and survival. Even if you choose not to set up a mentorship track, simply hosting cross-generational learning lunches can help build trust and understanding.
2. Don’t forget the individual.
Thinking about generational differences is important, but be careful not to paint a large group of workers with the same brush. In reality, teams succeed when individuals use their strengths to impact the company in their own ways. That’s where companies win.
One great analogy for this comes from a book I really liked, “Good to Great,” by Jim Collins. The analogy involves getting the right people on the bus. You might not know where the bus is headed at first. But if you fill it with the right people and then figure out where to go, you’ll always arrive somewhere great.
Not everyone on your team has to be a superstar, so to speak -- but it’s important to be (or provide) a good coach who can identify each individual’s strengths and help him or her improve in weaker areas. This person should also be able to select people who would work well together for specific projects.
3. Bring out Gen Z’s entrepreneurial tendencies.
Gen Zers have been mini CEOs from a very early age, and they should always have the freedom to follow their own visions. This doesn’t work without support, though. Gen Zers might seem like they’re just fine on their own, but they need nurturing and coaching from leaders to discover how to best use their skills. Here, success is striking that delicate balance between setting Gen Zers free and coaching them gently from the sidelines.
Target has done a great job of this. Late last year, the retail giant started its own startup program -- dubbed Target Incubator -- to help support innovative, altruistic ideas from Gen Zers while keeping them close to the heart of the company.
Even if you don’t have the spare cash to lend to budding Gen Z entrepreneurs, you can always guide them. See if you can help them secure tools, get guidance or foster the connections needed to achieve their goals. Look around for unsolved work-related problems or less-than-efficient processes. Your young employees might be willing to take these innovation challenges on.
Any meeting of minds will involve conflict, adjustment and a whole lot of learning. But if you can embrace these changes when building a cross-generational team, your startup will only grow stronger.
Steve Robertson is the CEO of Julian Krinsky Camps & Programs (JKCP), an organization specializing in youth-to-adult programming that turns curiosity into passion and skill. Steve has been with the company for 18 years. In this role, his primary responsibility is to cultivate a culture that results in memories lasting a lifetime.