Super Chickens

I recently came across a TED Talk by Margaret Heffernan, where she talks about the concept of super chickens and how it relates to the workplace.

The Origin of Super Chickens

Margaret tells us of a story about a farmer who wanted to breed chickens that were the best of the best. He achieved this by selectively breeding the chickens who laid the most eggs for six generations.
In addition, he also kept another group of chickens whom just bred normally and had no selection whatsoever.
At the end of the six generations he saw that the uncontrolled group were healthy and laying eggs. However, when it came to the super chickens they had almost killed each other off.

When I heard that, it was not what I had expected. Margaret then went on to further explain and to draw parallels to the various teams that she had seen in her career.

Super Chickens At Work

From Margaret's studies she found that the most successful teams weren't the ones whom had people with the highest IQ, nor were they the teams that had the highest average IQ. However, the teams that were successful had three main contributing factors, namely:

  • Having team members with a high level of empathy.
  • People who didn't dominate the team or team members who just sat back and didn't contribute
  • Teams with more women (Probably due having higher levels of empathy)

As a result of the higher levels of empathy, the team members got to know each other better and began to rely on each other for help in areas where they needed assistance. Over time bonds started to grow between the people and loyalty started to form as well. As a result, this created teams that were robust and able to weather the storm.
What she also found was that teams that worked together longer tended to perform better as they had a large amount of time to build bonds and relationships. Overall, the ability to help each other trumped the intelligence of individual team members.

As a result of all of this, some companies have even started to ban having coffee at your desk as they want to encourage socializing, so that people get to know each other. By doing this, people start to build relationships and learn who they can turn to for help when they need it.

A Team of Normal Chickens

The goal for any leader is to create a sustainable, high performant team. More than likely, having a team of super chickens will not get you there. Instead, it would be better to get a mix of people who are an expert in certain areas. By doing this, you can create a varied team who can cover for the various weaknesses of the individuals in the team.

At the end of the day, we could all achieve so much more if we stopped trying to be super chickens and focused on building relationships with other people and asking for help when you need assistance. These are the teams that will be able to survive in the long run.

Until next time...keep learning!

Mauro Da Silva

Learning everyday about software development, leadership & self improvement

South Africa