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  • Writer's pictureHeikki Leskinen

Unlocking Organizational Wisdom Across Generations

A movement slogan

Organizations face unprecedented challenges from AI, climate change, and talent shortages. The insights to navigate these waters often already exist within companies' multi-generational workforces. Yet, most struggle to tap this resource effectively. The solution? A carefully orchestrated approach to cross-generational dialogue that goes beyond good intentions.

For the past eight years, I've been facilitating workshops that bring together senior executives and young professionals in a unique, hierarchy-free environment. These sessions have consistently revealed a wealth of hidden generational intelligence within organizations – a critical resource for anticipating and adapting to our rapidly changing world. The key lies not in what each generation can offer separately, but in the magic that happens when we create the right conditions for genuine dialogue across age groups.

"When we create the right conditions, the mix of youthful insight and seasoned wisdom can solve problems we didn't even know we had."

The NextGen Paradox: Unlocking Hidden Potential

Many companies struggle to fully leverage the potential of their younger employees. I call this the "NextGen Paradox" – the gap between what young professionals could contribute and what they're actually asked to do. This paradox often leaves a vital resource for understanding and adapting to our changing world untapped.

Bridging this gap isn't just about giving young employees a voice. It requires a carefully structured approach that fosters real conversations across generations, free from hierarchical constraints and generational biases. Let's explore how to make this happen.

Creating the Conditions for Cross-Generational Dialogue

The power of cross-generational collaboration lies in creating an environment where hierarchies dissolve and ideas flow freely. This requires careful orchestration of three key elements:

The success of these sessions hinges on bringing together the right people. When it comes to selecting NextGen advisors, I've found that pre-interviews are crucial. Here are the qualities I look for:

  1. Articulate visionaries: Individuals who can express complex ideas clearly and convincingly

  2. Active listeners: Those who engage genuinely with others' ideas, not just pushing their own agenda

  3. Constructive challengers: People who can question assumptions productively, without being overly critical

  4. Future-focused innovators: Participants who demonstrate a keen interest in shaping the future, often evident in their extracurricular activities

  5. Interdisciplinary thinkers: Those with a broad spectrum of interests across different fields

The goal isn't just to select impressive individuals, but to create a cross-disciplinary group that brings diverse perspectives to the table.

2. Crafting a Hierarchy-Free Zone

To foster truly open dialogue, it's essential to create an environment where traditional power structures are temporarily suspended. In my experience, this often means:

- Bringing in young professionals from outside the organization to avoid internal political dynamics

- Holding the workshop away from company premises – a neutral territory can work wonders for open communication

- Eliminating obvious status markers – in this space, titles and positions take a back seat to ideas

The aim is to create an atmosphere where a junior professional feels just as comfortable sharing a bold idea as a seasoned executive.

3. Guiding the Dialogue: The Three-Phase Process

To harness the collective wisdom of a multi-generational group, I've developed a structured three-phase process that consistently yields powerful insights:

Phase 1: "You Need an Enemy!

This phase is all about finding common ground through shared concerns. Here's how it unfolds:

We divide participants into mixed groups of executives and NextGen members. Each group tackles a pre-defined topic relevant to the organization. Their task? To identify an "enemy" – an injustice, danger, or pain point that the world isn't paying enough attention to.

What makes a good "enemy"? It's something that resonates with everyone in the group, both intellectually and emotionally. It should be a issue that people feel in their gut needs fixing. This shared sense of purpose acts as a powerful connector, bridging generational gaps and fostering trust.

Once each group has identified their "enemy," they explore its implications. What happens if we ignore this issue? What are the consequences? This discussion often reveals surprising alignments between generations and helps break down stereotypes.

Phase 2: "Design a Movement!"

With a shared enemy identified, groups now channel their energy into creating positive change. They brainstorm slogans for a movement dedicated to addressing their chosen issue.

The key here is to think beyond the company. We're not looking for corporate initiatives, but for ideas that could rally people from all walks of life. The best slogans are those that would make an outsider say, "Finally, someone's paying attention to this. How can I join?"

Groups also define the positive impact they want their movement to have. This could range from improving employee well-being to transforming customer experiences or even addressing broader societal issues. The goal is to think big – we're aiming for audacious, inspiring visions.

Phase 3: "Mobilize Your Movement!"

In this final phase, we bring it all back to the organization. How can the company participate in or contribute to this movement? What concrete actions can turn these inspiring ideas into reality?

This is where we see the real magic of cross-generational collaboration. Seasoned executives bring their understanding of organizational realities, while younger participants offer fresh perspectives on implementation. Together, they identify potential changes in leadership styles, necessary new skills, cultural shifts, or innovative partnerships.

The result? A set of actionable ideas that are both visionary and grounded in organizational reality.

Bringing Cross-Generational Dialogue into Your Organization

While this method often involves bringing in young professionals from outside, its principles can be adapted for use within your company. Here are some ways to incorporate this approach:

  1. Create "Generational Advisory Boards" that use the three-phase process to tackle strategic challenges.

  2. Implement "Reverse Mentoring" programs structured around identifying shared concerns and designing solutions.

  3. "Future Scenarios" workshops that bring together diverse teams to explore potential challenges and responses.

  4. Set up "Innovation Incubators" where employees of all ages can collaborate outside normal hierarchies.

  5. Form "Cross-Generational Project Teams" with rotating leadership to address specific organizational issues.

The key is to create spaces where hierarchy is temporarily suspended and diverse perspectives are not just welcomed, but actively sought out.

Measuring the Impact

To gauge the effectiveness of these initiatives, keep an eye on metrics like innovation rate, organizational adaptability, employee engagement across age groups, knowledge sharing between generations, and the diversity of your leadership pipeline.

Looking Ahead: The Power of Generational Intelligence

In a world changing at an unprecedented pace, organizations that can tap into the collective wisdom of all their people will have a significant advantage. By creating the right conditions for open, cross-generational dialogue, companies can:

- Anticipate and adapt to new trends more quickly

- Foster a culture of continuous learning and innovation

- Break down silos and enhance organizational agility

- Develop a more robust and diverse pool of future leaders

> "The most successful companies of tomorrow will be those that transform generational diversity from a challenge into a strategic asset."

As a leader, your task – and opportunity – is to create the conditions for this hidden generational intelligence to flourish. By embracing the principles and practices of effective cross-generational dialogue, you can unlock a powerful source of insight and innovation within your organization, positioning it to thrive in an ever-changing world.


About the Author: Heikki has spent the past eight years pioneering methods for effective cross-generational dialogue in organizations. Through The NextGen Project, he has helped numerous major companies unlock the hidden potential of their multi-generational workforce, leading to increased innovation, improved employee engagement, and enhanced adaptability in rapidly changing markets.


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