Review: Forget the pecking order at work

Dr. D. M. Hardy
3 min readJul 8, 2020

Speaker: Margaret Heffernan
Date: May 2015
Location: Monterey, California

Description from TED website:
Organizations are often run according to “the super chicken model,” where the value is placed on star employees who outperform others. And yet, this isn’t what drives the most high-achieving teams. Business leader Margaret Heffernan observes that it is social cohesion — built every coffee break, every time one team member asks another for help — that leads over time to great results. It’s a radical rethink of what drives us to do our best work, and what it means to be a leader. Because as Heffernan points out: “Companies don’t have ideas. Only people do.”

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My Review / Notes / Thoughts

As she started in her talk, she discussed an experiment that a biologist conducted with chickens. He had two groups, the “average” group of chickens and the “super chickens” which were the high producing chickens. With both groups, he allowed them to go out to six generations, leaving the “average” group alone, but only keeping the highest producing chickens in the “super chicken” group. As you listen to the story, you initially think that the “super chicken” group will have the highest yield… but it didn’t, because those chickens in the “super chicken” group pecked their competitors to death, leaving only three chickens.

Does that concept sound familiar to you? It certainly did to me!

As Margaret continued her talk, she provided more examples of studies and situations which backed the concepts she presented. The MIT research showed that really successful teams had three things in common.

  1. High degrees of social sensitivity to one another
  2. Each team member had roughly equal time so that no one voice dominated
  3. The more successful groups had more women in them (either due to more empathy or greater diversity)

So what does this all mean? She boils it down to the concept of “Social Capital.” The more successful teams work on developing social capital, and as she mentions repeatedly, social capital is something that grows the more you spend it — it compounds over time.

How much social capital do you have at your work/school/etc.?

Does your environment value everyone’s perspective? Or are there are few stand out “stars” that get all the attention?

What is the standard that everyone works towards? Is it the best imaginable? Or is it just “good enough” to get it done?

And does your team get to focus on the work without having those that hold (i.e. “power holders”) butt in and disrupt the team’s flow and efforts?

I love the statement she made at the end of her presentation, which is more important now than ever before.

“Now we need everybody, because it is only when we accept that everybody has value that we will liberate the energy and imagination and momentum we need to create the best beyond measure.”

Photographer: William Moreland | Source: Unsplash

Don’t get caught in the “super chicken” trap. Remember that everyone has value and they should have the opportunity to offer their perspectives.

Until next time … live long life-learner!



Dr. D. M. Hardy

I have a M.Ed. in Instructional Technology, and an Ed.D. in Adult & Career Education. I enjoy spreading knowledge, because we all need to be life-long learners.