in conclusion

Impact and Learning Span the Generations

Today’s best teams share these common motivators By Chester Elton and Adrian Gostick

Chester Elton and Adrian Gostick are The New York Times best-selling authors of “The Best Team Wins,” “All In” and “The Carrot Principle.” They can be reached at


e are smack-dab in the middle of a massive shift toward more teamwork in the workplace. In the average company, up to 80 percent of employees’ days are spent working collaboratively, and yet only 14 percent of leaders are satisfied with their ability to collaborate and make decisions as teams.

Sounds like an opportunity for L&D.

Let’s face it: Leading a team has never been harder. We have five generations at work, many of whom are global, remote or gig employees. We are told to break down silos and work cross-functionally, but no one has taught us how. We used to have a year to bring a new employee up to speed; now we have weeks. And so on. That’s why, in writing “The Best Team Wins,” we drew on our surveys of more than 850,000 people to identify the traits of today’s most successful team leaders — those who are facing and overcoming these obstacles.

Included in our data are 50,000 people who have completed our Motivators Assessment, a 100-question test that ranks human motivators (out of 23 possible choices) from the strongest to weakest. As our research team sorted through this database, one of the most striking findings was that the most common top two motivators are the same across all generations in the workplace today: (1) impact and (2) learning.

The desire for impact is the need to know that your work is important and makes a positive difference in the world. The desire for learning is the wish to keep developing your talents and increasing your knowledge. These two drivers are paramount to a majority of employees from their 20s to their 60s.

While the importance of learning has been highlighted in other surveys, we looked under the hood to find that similar labels can mask important differences based on age. The most effective learning for millennials, the majority said, is often collaborative and tech-forward. For boomers, the best learning typically builds on their experience and knowledge (versus being completely new to them) and should be immediately applicable to their work. While younger workers often value team-based classroom or online training, the most effective learning for older employees comes through variety in their daily work. Variety as a motivator grows substantially in importance as we age — from a middle-of-the-pack concept for millennials to one of the strongest motivators for people later in their careers. Thus, for older workers — who many leaders unfortunately take for granted — a sure way to disconnect them is to have their work become rote.

These generational differences have helped construction giant Skanska USA change the way its people learn. CEO Rich Cavallaro explained, “If the taillight goes out on my wife’s Jeep Cherokee, how do I fix it? I watch a video on YouTube and in 10 minutes I can do the job. If I didn’t have that, it would take me three hours to figure out how to remove all the parts.” As such, Skanska’s process to bring people up to speed has become much more video-based, offered in bite-sized increments.

Let’s face it: Leading a team has never been harder.

Mitch Snyder, CEO of Bell Helicopter, said these generational understandings have prompted his company to focus more learning on career development: “Millennials value nurturing and constant high-level engagement with their leaders, as well as being challenged and making a difference. They need to feel there is a path for their career.” Thus, Bell has become more transparent about career development and lateral and promotional opportunities and has empowered team managers to hold mentoring sessions with employees to help them take each step forward.

Something similarly fascinating is taking place at Michigan Medicine (formerly the University of Michigan Health System), where a group of L&D professionals and others throughout the system started MicroMentors. The idea was to provide early- and midcareer professionals at this organization a way to spend up to 60 minutes of undivided attention with a senior leader. These short, one-time bursts of mentoring assist emerging leaders in working through issues. There’s no long-term relationship expected. Topics offered include everything from managing disruptive employee behavior to salary negotiation. The most oft-requested micromentoring sessions have revolved around career development — with younger professionals asking questions about pursuing additional education or trying new things in their careers.

It’s a terrific idea, and just one of many we found in researching today’s best teams.