I’ve worked in some cutthroat environments. Where there is a pressure (spoken or otherwise) to be better than the person next to you. Where the attitude of the leaders is to pit people against each other and that ‘only the strongest will survive’. This type of approach is especially prevalent in sales teams where businesses over recruit on the premise that only a certain percentage will make it out alive.
But as covered by Margaret Hefferman in her recent TED talk, experiments with animals have proven this might not be the best way.
She describes an experiment with chickens where this approach was taken to breeding a race of super chickens. Where only the most productive were selected for breeding in each generation. The result six generations later? The super chickens had all been wiped out, pecking each other to death.
At the same time the control group who were left to bread in the normal natural manner had thrived.
But as Hefferman points out, we continue to run most companies in the same manner as the super-chicken experiment. Trying to breed a race of super-productive, super-effective workers to maximise profits. Giving the resources and power to the brightest super-chickens in the hope this will produce the best results. What this can result in is oppression, aggression and power struggles leading to the opposite of the desired effect.
In contrast, experiments by MIT showed that IQ (collective or individual) or individual capability doesn’t define the most successful teams. The most successful teams were those with high social sensitivity or empathy, those that gave each other an equal voice, and those with more female presence.
She goes on to explain how other studies have proven a culture of helpfulness is the real key to productivity and effectiveness in the workplace. Environments where people are working as a team and are left to motivate each other to a common cause.
Anybody involved or interested in sport will recognise this and how it regularly occurs in real scenarios. The team that works together with a combined effort and potentially less individual capability, will quite often overcome opponents with better individual capabilities.
So maybe its time to stop looking for individual superstars and starting looking at how you can build a helpful team with common goals.
You can see Margaret Hefferman’s TED talk below, its well worth a watch.