For the first time in history, we are seeing employees range in age from 18 to 80. Four distinct generations – Baby boomers, Gen X, Millennials (Gen Y) and Gen Z – are working together in large numbers. This generational gap and diversity brings a wealth of benefits but also challenges to business leaders.

There has never been a better time for younger individuals to learn from experienced coworkers nor for older ones to discover innovative solutions. As a business leader, use these three rules to counter cross-generational communication deadlocks.

Build Cross-Generational Teams

Older workers generally occupy more senior positions in an organization. Consequently, communication gaps between generations that consistently fall along echelon differences risk being framed as an oversimplified “us” versus “them” issue.

Teams that comprise members from a wider age range are inherently resistant to that problem. Remember, people connect with people and not with a generation. Real interaction between individuals of all ages working together to solve problems fosters meaningful understanding and foments tangible progress.

Avoid the pitfall of building a diverse team simply for the sake of optics, though. Shoehorning underqualified people into a team sets them up for failure and will only reinforce negative stereotypes about their generation.

Stimulate Interaction

A cross-generational team working well together is a good start. Build upon that foundation with interaction that goes beyond the usual scope of their roles. This can take the form of either professional courses or off-site team-building activities.

Research indicates that employee professional learning preferences transcend age and generation. They all share a desire to develop relevant, in-demand skills and stay up-to-date with advancements in the industry. Training courses where they can learn from each other as well are a great way to develop mutual respect.

Periodic group activities away from the office environment also do wonders for employee interaction. It gives everyone an opportunity to see each other not just as colleagues but as friends outside their rigid roles and the limitations of the workplace. Looking past differences in age or generation, and even past real shortcomings, are much more likely when employees share an out-of-the-workplace bond.

Change Begins with You

Interaction between employees is certainly at the crux of addressing potential communications problems within the ranks. As a leader, you can assist by creating an atmosphere where everyone understands that they have the freedom to raise issues unique to them.

Younger workers may fear being labelled “whiny” or “soft” if they question established workplace rules and practices. Older ones often internalize questions or suggestions for fear of being branded old-fashioned or out-of-touch. Encourage openness by stressing the validity of their diverse opinions and concerns. Share your own potentially embarrassing, perhaps even self-deprecatory, views to get the ball rolling.

Are you looking for more advice on how to work within a multigenerational workplace? Read my articles previous Millennials Are Changing the Future of Work and Workplace Communication.