GroundFloor Media & CenterTable Blog

Running_Chicken_clip_art_mediumThere are a lot of tips and best practices for increasing workplace productivity. It is something no business, of any size, can ignore. Throughout my 20+-year career in communications, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many businesses, nonprofit organizations and government agencies. As an agency partner, I have also played in house communications counsel roles and gained an insider’s view of different management styles and their impacts on workplace productivity. For me, the biggest takeaway from being in house is when leadership begins to focus on individual success rather than collaboration to hit their organizational goals the team suffers and productivity ceases.

I often think of a story I heard from entrepreneur Margaret Heffernan about how our cultural obsession with individual success is threatening our potential for collaboration and productivity. She shared a research project by William Muer, an animal breeder at Purdue University, who took a group of chickens to see if he could create a group of more productive “super chickens.”


He took one flock and let it alone for six generations. And then created another flock constructed with the individually most productive chickens each generation. At the end of six generations he compared the two groups. The average flock was doing well, healthy and more productive than ever. The “super flock” only had three chickens left. They had pecked each other to death!


Margaret sums this project up from the TED stage, “I often hear from people when I tell them this story ‘that super flock, that’s my company, or that’s my country, or that’s my life.’ Getting ahead is to compete. Not very inspiring. Working alongside brilliant creative people is its own reward.”


Margaret challenges us to “find a better way to work and a richer way to live.”


Think of the pressures around us in business and home. We have to climb the corporate ladder and get the next title to feel successful. Our kids have to get into the best schools and colleges. We are driving each other mad.


“It leads to a catastrophic loss of productivity and creativity. Work shouldn’t be a fight to the death,” Margaret notes. “Money might make you work harder but not better with other people. What really matters is social capital – TRUST. It is what gives companies momentum. Makes them robust. Time is everything and social capital compounds with time. The simple truth is that teams that work together longer get better. Time is what builds value.”


We all need to stop trying to be super chickens. How do you work at building teams at work or home? Do you challenge co-workers, teachers and your family to bring out their best? How do you manage conflict? How do you include everyone around the table to make a contribution and reach their full potential? Margaret mentions that when you have people think for themselves, good ideas turn into great ideas. Want to hear more?

Margaret Heffernan began her career in radio and television production. She built a strong track record as a producer at the BBC before going on to run the film and television producer trade association IPPA. In the U.S., she became a serial entrepreneur and CEO in the wild early days of web business. Her latest book, Beyond Measure: The Big Impact Of Small Changes, a TED Books original, explores the small steps companies can make that lead to big changes in their culture.

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