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Chickens and modern-day leadership have more things in common than one would think

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The famous biologist William Muir conducted a social experiment on a flock of chickens to conclude a commonly misinterpreted theory on productiveness. He studied the behaviour of two separate flocks of chickens. One of these flocks had an average performance in productivity (which was measured in the number of eggs laid over a specific period of time). He left this flock by itself for six generations. The other flock was known as “superchickens”, because their productivity performance (number of eggs) was noticeably higher than the performance of flock 1. This flock was also left by itself for six generations. After this time period, Muir compared these two flocks with each other, and the results were astounding.

The general prediction would of course be that the “superchickens” must have outperformed the average ones, when quite the opposite turned out to be true. At the end of the study, the average group of chickens turned out to be healthy, nourished and they also resulted in an overall growth curve over the six generations. While with the “superchickens” this was not the case at all. Only three chickens were left alive after the six generations, and it seems like they developed an unhealthy sense of competitiveness where they pecked each other to death in order to reach an imaginary status symbol.

Similar behavior can be observed in today’s corporate life, especially in companies following a strict managerial hierarchy and it is creating an overall lack of productivity. Hyper- toxic internal competitiveness is eating companies alive as one person is “pecking” the other to get to the top, instead of co-creating, which in the end increases productiveness. Although one can go faster, many can go further. This “superchicken” behavior is being brought under our attention more and more lately and therefore we need to rewire the way we think about future business and leadership. The future of work is already happening.


What high achieving groups have in common:

A misconception has been formed, that high-achieving teams need to have 2 or 3 outstanding individuals that carry the rest of the team, when in fact this could not be further from the truth. According to Margaret Heffernan, dream teams often display 3 specific characteristics which make them stand out from others:

  1. These teams have a higher level of collective empathy around one another compared to other teams. This empathy is measured by a test called “Reading the mind in the eye test”, which is designed as a social intelligence examination of how well you can pick up on the emotions of others by simply being around them and “looking into their eyes.” (This test can be taken on the following site: http://socialintelligence.labinthewild.org/mite/)
  2. Dream teams usually gave an average consistent amount of time to each other. In other words, no specific person took over all the conversations, but there was also no one who had no voice in them either.
  3. These teams also (unsurprisingly) showed a higher percentage of women in them. This is mainly because of genetic factors such as higher empathy levels and diverse perspectives which are proven to be more common amongst women.

At the end of the day, it is our “social- connectedness” that holds the power to high performance within teams. When there is a strong environment of helpfulness, ideas can be formed and developed. The driving force to helpfulness in a team is spending time with each other on a more personal level. Employees need a sense of social community support, a sense of belonging. “Companies don’t have ideas, only people do”. A good example of this is the Swedish traditional “Fika” which shows that during shared coffee breaks, employees can relax, debate, and develop each other’s ideas.



[fee-ka] – Swedish

  • (n.) “a moment to slow down and appreciate the good things in life. Coffee with friends.”

Social capital

Social capital refers to the social network all around us. It is centralized around the relationships that work and live in the same environment, which makes things flow efficiently. Social capital is the key to a team or company’s momentum. It is what makes the corporate world turn and it is something that requires a lot of time to create. Taking coffee breaks together might sound like a simple thing to do, but it might just be the thing that increases your company profit by 10%. Social capital will result in an increase of conflict as well, but this is no concern since it simply shows that there is a psychological safety present. It is what turns average ideas into great ones.

Putting a stop to internal competition

  1. Generate an equality driven workspace

When we all feel safe and equal in our surroundings, the urge of beating each other or proving something, lessens. When rules are out to limit us, only then we feel the need to fight back. Things that cause a hyper-toxic competitiveness amongst employees might take place in the form of over-recognition, unreasonable methods and prizes to those who stand out more than others.

  1. Create common goals, since it is essential to the “one team one dream” mindset

A variety of objectives lead to a variety of behaviors. Various behaviors can easily lead to opposite opinions and ways of doing things which can cause the eventual goal of a team to be inconsistent. Common goals will enhance teamwork and unity, if influential and big enough.

  1. Guide the focus of those who are very hostile or uncertain

The team members who spend useless time and energy on hostility and insecurity need to be guided to focus on more essential business aspects. Uplifting other’s self-esteem, helping people find what they’re passionate about and calming people’s minds about situations are all examples of helping these behaviors to stay controlled.


Trust takes time, but once it is there, social capital can be built, and success will follow. We are facing a point in business where we need to redefine leadership as a whole. It is time to escape the strong hierarchical management systems and focus on the things that actually create a dream team: collective empathy, quality time with each other and women. There is one standard that should be followed: the best imaginable.


  • Flóra Lang

    I really enjoyed reading this!

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