Strategies for Intergenerational Synergy in Business

It is no secret that humans have a strong instinct toward binary thinking. We love to dichotomise: good versus bad, hero versus villain, old versus young. This way of thinking is simple and intuitive, but also dangerous, placing collaboration and mutual progress at risk.

Unfortunately, the modern era of work has placed a veil of peril on the global labour force. Many young people are at risk of unemployment due to the prevailing economic climate and their relative shortage of work experience. Older workers, on the opposite end of the spectrum, risk expulsion from the modern labour market due to a variety of stereotypes, including low flexibility, resistance to new technologies, and high salary expectations. Meanwhile, the development of AI technologies has provoked widespread fear among both the old and the young, who fear job losses and a further rise in inequality.

As tough times often do, this risk has set the scene for conflict, presenting a challenge to intergenerational fairness in the labour force. Many people share the false assumption that the world of work must be dominated by either the old or the young. However, intergenerational issues are not a zero-sum game. In reality, the greatest potential lies in combining the strengths of all age groups to create value that is greater than the sum of its parts.

If leaders properly employ strategies to foster collaboration and synergy across generations, the result will be a sustainable, win-win environment that maximises impact and benefits us all.

Businesses can drive inter-generational collaboration and foster synergy in the world of work via the following three strategies. These strategies can be spear-headed by organisational leaders. They will, however, be most effective when paired with a collective buy-in from employees of all ages.

Strategies to Make Intergenerational Synergy a Reality

1. Committing to Inclusive Leadership

An organisation committed to intergenerational synergy must understand that inclusive leadership is vital for success. Truly inclusive leadership ensures that all stakeholders, young and old, feel that they are valued, heard, and treated fairly. This inclusiveness is not just nice to have – research has shown that teams with inclusive leaders are 29% more likely to report behaving collaboratively.

It is important to understand that inclusive leadership is not just as simple as placing young employees on the management team. Inclusive leadership does indeed include a commitment to diversity and representation, but it must go beyond that. Researchers writing for the Harvard Business Review found that there are six main behaviours that set inclusive leaders apart. These are visible commitment, humility, awareness of bias, curiosity about others, cultural intelligence, and effective collaboration. Furthermore, the most inclusive leaders in the study showed tangible behaviours that included an openness about their personal weaknesses, a willingness to learn about cultural differences, and the acknowledgment of team members as individuals.

It is a myth that irresponsible decisions are only made by irresponsible leaders, and inclusive leader is aware of this, recognising the flaws in themselves and others. They transparently invite all stakeholders into the decision-making process, help team members to see how their roles contribute to company goals, and keep everyone accountable.  Unsurprisingly, this leadership style has been found to be desirable across generations. Inclusive leadership will bring the whole team on board, old and young, and foster an environment of intergenerational collaboration.

2. Reducing Silo Mentality Through a Renewed Focus on Systems Thinking

It is impossible for businesses to experience large-scale support from the youth without a focus on sustainability. A spotlight has been placed on the wider impact of business decisions, meaning that companies can no longer make business decisions in isolation. Businesses must therefore remove silo mentality and establish a renewed focus on systems thinking.

Systems thinking requires businesses to understand that we cannot have healthy people on an unhealthy planet, nor can we have infinite growth on a finite planet. Historically, attempts from businesses to address sustainability issues have often failed to take account of how complex and interconnected the systems supporting life on Earth are, often resulting in paradoxically harmful outcomes.

Businesses must embrace cross-functional teams, fostering collaboration, creative thinking, and new ideas.  Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics must be connected with the social sciences. By producing teams of system-thinkers who span multiple generations, we maximise our ability to tackle real-world challenges and embrace opportunities. And while polls do show that it is the youth that is especially concerned about sustainability, results show that most of the older generation cares as well. Intergenerational synergy can therefore be advanced through a renewed, system-level focus on this mutual goal.

3. Boosting Employment Security and Embedding Responsible Business Practices Through Continuous Training

One of the main threats to individual employment security, especially among the older generation, is the struggle to keep up with industry needs. With new knowledge, frameworks, and technologies becoming available at an unprecedented rate, employees can no longer consider education and training a once-off event from their past. Companies should facilitate ongoing training to ensure that their employees remain at the forefront of industry best practices.

Another topic that requires an ongoing commitment to learning is that of responsible business practices. The Covid pandemic, together with the ongoing climate crisis, has shown us that it has never been more critical for organisations to embed responsibility at the forefront of their missions. Businesses must equip themselves to move away from a “growth is always good” mindset and instead set their sights on long-term sustainability goals. This requires the implementation of sustainability training for all employees (including executives), placing responsible business at the heart of all operations.

Regular opportunities to learn and develop present a powerful tool to build employee commitment to any business. This rings true for employees of all ages. Through an enthusiastic commitment to ongoing training in both technical skills and responsible business practices, businesses can create a secure environment where no employee, of any age, feels left behind.


Businesses have the potential to add immense value to society. By utilising the resources at its disposal, the business sector can lead the way to build a better, more responsible, future for mankind. To achieve this potential, it is necessary for businesses to facilitate effective collaboration between older and younger generations in the workforce.

The older generation’s experience and wisdom, combined with the youth’s resilience, creativity, and drive for real impact, is worth a great deal more than the sum of its parts. If intergenerational synergy is achieved, there will be few challenges that cannot be overcome.

This article is a shortened adaptation of an essay written for the St Gallen Symposium, 2022. All opinions expressed are the author’s own.