January 20, 2016

Did You Know Your Workplace Pecking Order Is Killing Your Production?

All flocks of domestic chickens will establish a pecking order. In other words, a top-down hierarchy of status to create order in the flock. For over 50 years, we've run most organizations and even some societies using this model. But this form of "management" has no interest in teamwork, shared success or connectedness. Nor does it breed creativity or productivity! Instead, your workplace pecking order has your team focused on competition NOT cooperation.

The Egg-Citing Study That Opened Our Eyes

Dr. William Muir is an evolutionary biologist at Purdue University. He has dedicated his research to group behavior and measuring productivity. In one experiment, he spent many years studying chickens to improve their egg-laying productivity by breeding the best producers.

Ultimately, Dr. Muir had 1 control group (9 average hens) and 1 test group (9 Super Chickens; aka the highest quantity egg producers).

At the end of the study, after 6 generations had passed, the control group was plump, well-feathered and healthy. Plus, their egg production had increased by 160%!

On the other hand, the Super Chickens were still "super" productive. Well, the 3 that were left, anyway. The other 6 were snuffed out (pecked to death) by the superstars. So, overall production actually plummeted. These individually productive Super Chickens achieved their success by suppressing the productivity of the rest. Yet, this Super-Chicken Model is the productivity model run in most business organizations.

So, what did Dr. Muir's study teach us?? Cooperation is the better model!

Muir’s experiments revealed that creating a high-producing team is not merely a matter of selecting the “best” individuals. In actuality, a high-producing team requires team members to work together to create what cannot be produced alone.

Stop the Aggression, Dysfunction, and Waste!

Growing up on the bank of the Mississippi in Davenport, Iowa, we didn’t buy pasteurized milk or eggs from the grocery store. Actually, we drove out to the dairy farm. We left with gallon glass jars of raw milk and eggs that were laid that morning.

I loved watching the barnyard animals while the farmer got our order ready. My dad taught me all about them. Of course, that includes the chickens and their pecking order.

He explained that when a rooster crows, he's showing his dominance as the alpha male. And he pointed out how the larger chickens chase the smaller ones away from the water bowl. Not to forget, the chicken fights we observed for the fluffiest dust to bathe in.

Yeah, believe it or not, this culture most likely exists within your business, too!

Companies that continue to give the "Super Chicken Star" all the resources and all the power. . . Well, the result will be the same as Muir's experiment: aggression, dysfunction, and waste.

"If the only way the most productive can be successful is by suppressing the productivity of the rest, then we badly need to find a better way to work and a richer way to live." —Margaret Heffernan

Trade Your Workplace Pecking Order for Social Capital

With time, comes seniority, and the presence of a "Super Chicken" emerges. Think about the manager who established things will be done my-way-or-the-highway . . . or the boss who disregards anyone else's ideas.

Yep, if that sounds familiar, you’ve got yourself a Super Chicken!

"Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off." ―Franklin D. Roosevelt

The answer to this workplace pecking order problem is social capital. Building social capital is the key to unlocking powerful growth and skyrocketing profits.

What is Social Capital?

Margaret Heffernan, entrepreneur and author, describes social capital best:

"Social capital is the reliance and interdependency that builds trust. The term comes from sociologists who were studying communities that proved particularly resilient in times of stress. Social capital is what gives companies momentum, and social capital is what makes companies robust."

Social Capital Can Be Described With These Components:


It’s developed between team members by consistently setting and obtaining small achievable goals. Obtaining these goals allows each team member to work with one another and feel like their contributions matter.


There is no substitute for time. Just like a sports team performs better at the end of the season compared to the beginning. Your team will perform better as trust deepens, roles are established, and a sense of team is built.


The key in all relationships—both personal and professional. It needs to be given and received quickly without drama or misreading between the lines. Efficient communication, void of emotion, allows adjustments to procedures and projects to be made on the fly.


When every team member feels comfortable expressing his or her opinion freely and without impending criticism, creativity is cultured. Create an environment that establishes trust, where every team member counts.

Now the Real Question: Are You Working in a Chicken Coop?

A great company no longer needs a great leader to throw on a superhero suit and show up to save the day, because no one else can survive without them. A great company has leaders of today that inspire and bring out the best in their team members. Meanwhile, creating a culture that fosters and rewards creativity and productivity.

For more on this topic, enjoy Margaret Heffernan's Ted Talk on “Why it's time to forget the pecking order at work:”

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