I was recently referred to a TED talk by Margaret Heffernan – on “Forget the Pecking Order at Work”.  It raised my curiosity right from the start.  Margaret told a story of an evolutionary biologist, William Muir, who was interested in studying productivity.  William devised a study on chickens, it’s an easy experiment to do – as all you have to do is count the eggs!!!

Over time William developed a “super flock” – where the most productive chickens were taken away from the main group –and he left them alone for 6 generations. The result was that only 3 of the original chickens in the super flock were still alive – the others had been literally picked to death!

The original chickens however were still fully feathered, plump and doing well – their productivity had also increased.  The result of the study, Margaret discusses in her TED talk is that “the individually productive chickens had only achieved their success by suppressing the productivity of the rest”.

Margaret also explains how people have told her at the end of her talks – “the super flock represents the company where I work” – and they have been unmotivated because their companies have similarly sort out those perceived to be the “stars” in their organisations.

What does make some groups more productive and successful than others? This is something that a team at MIT researched.  What they found from their group of volunteers, who were tasked with solving some very difficult problems, was that the ones that did the best did not necessarily have the highest IQ, but they did exhibit three characteristics.

  • A high degree of social sensitivity to each other –  in short – empathy
  • They gave equal time to each other, but there were not any “passengers”
  • And finally – the more successful groups had more women in them

It seems there is a reason for the third point.   Margaret explains that it is thought this may be because women generally are more empathetic – but also because women brought a more diverse perspective to a group.  The bottom line – the more successful groups have greater social connectedness.

She goes on to explain how this is being implemented in various scenarios – eg some companies have banned coffee cups at people’s desks, to encourage more time around the coffee machine.   The key being the importance of getting to know each other, so as to create an environment where people will want to help each other.

Team members know who to ask for help with their problem, and feel comfortable to approach them.  It has been found that helpful socially connected teams routinely outperform individual intelligence.

I find all this very relevant to our industry.  What business doesn’t want a productive and successful team?  Who doesn’t want to work for a socially connected organisation?  And finally, when we consider our clients, those schemes which are best able to affect this behaviour are easier to manage and run more smoothly.

If you are empathetic, it doesn’t matter your age, qualifications or your IQ – feel confident when you contribute, because if you are in an environment that nurtures social connectedness – you will be contributing to the overall success of the team.

The above is only part of this 15 min TED talk – I would encourage everyone to take some time to watch the whole talk.

This approach is something I try to encourage at Progressive Strata and it is starting to pay off!

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